In light of the rising cases of Covid-19 among migrant workers in her country, Singaporean Sudesna Roy Chowdhury built doctors and nurses a website to help bridge the language gap. Most of the island nation’s migrant workers plagued by the virus hail from South Asia.

The graduate of National University of Singapore had been volunteering as a Bengali interpreter since the pandemic began. If she was not on the phone assisting doctors attending to Bangladeshi patients, she was helping medical facilities to translate sets of instructions into Bengali.

Her sister, an emergency doctor, would send voice messages of medical terms in Bengali for her colleagues. Even their parents were roped in as more translation requests came in.

There had to be a faster, easier way to communicate with these patients, Sudesna thought. “I wouldn’t wish for any doctor to say that patient care was compromised because of a communication error.”

Photo credits: Sudesna Roy Chowdhury

Sudesna’s two goals for the portal was for frontliners to be able to conduct the first consultation with a patient without needing an interpreter and for them to be able to contact an interpreter directly without a middle-man.

She spent two hours inputting the Bengali translations of relevant phrases and terms used in the emergency department – such as when checking on a patient’s travel history and symptoms – which her sister helped compile.

The Bengali font was made bigger so that patients would not have to squint. “The website had to be accessible on the phone and very easy to use,” she said.

Many Singaporeans and permanent residents who speak these languages have also reached out to help. As a result, the website is now being translated into seven other languages, says Sudesna, namely: Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Sinhalese, Malayalam, Malay and Mandarin.

Sudesna also hopes that more doctors would call up a volunteer interpreter to assist in follow-up consultations.

“It gives us the opportunity to ask about the patient’s concerns, as they might not share their needs readily with someone who speaks English,” Sudesna said.