Health care FOR YOU in YOUR mother tongue! | Western Cape Government


Health care FOR YOU in YOUR mother tongue!

31 August 2023

Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness leads the way in providing health care in your mother tongue language, including sign language.

When it comes to our health, we want to know if we are healthy and if not, we want to understand what’s wrong and what treatment we will receive. Many of us struggle to understand ‘health speak’ at the best of times and this can be overwhelming. Imagine having to go through this journey in your third, or even fourth or fifth, language.

The Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness’s telephonic interpretation and sign language service puts people first, allowing for clear communication in the delivery of health care. This person-centric approach is engrained into the rendering of health care, providing clients with hope and optimism that they will receive the best care possible.

Beraldene Claassen’s son is a patient at Red Cross Children’s Hospital and is one of many clients who have been able to receive the care they need in the language they understand. “Signing was an obstacle for us. Without this service at the hospital, we wouldn’t be able to communicate with our son and identify the health challenges and we would not have gotten as far as we have today,” said Beraldene.

This service has become an integral part of how health care is provided as it establishes a trusting relationship between health care worker, patient, and the interpreter. This three-way communication system lays the foundation for clear communication to obtain and relay critical information in diagnosis, the treatment plan, and for follow-up care.

Lawrence Alberts (60) is a patient at Bishop Lavis Community Day Centre (CDC) and says, “I feel anxious when I visit my clinic, but there is always so much relief as soon as I see my interpreter. The interpreter really allows for in-depth communication so that the doctor or nurse knows what I need. I have my health problems, but I am healthy, and this service ensures I get the right information from the doctor or nurse about my treatment.”

Sister Germaine Faro at the CDC says she cannot do without the interpreting service. “This service really makes a difference for me and my patients. It allows my patients to fully express themselves and ensures that I get all the information that I need to support my patients. Without the service, we would struggle to communicate.”

Even the private sector realised that language barriers need to be overcome to provide the best possible care. Jennifer Gillespie (81) was referred to Tygerberg Hospital’s (TBH) Ophthalmology clinic for an eye examination. They did not have the service but knew that a sign language service was available at TBH where she received excellent care. She signed, “I was very happy to have a sign language practitioner to help and assist me because if I was alone, it would be very difficult to communicate. I feel comfortable and it is very important for deaf people to have access to a sign language interpreter.”

At Plettenberg Bay Clinic, Nurse Alfonso Swarts, echoes the value this service brings to health care. “This service really helps when I need to explain something to patients in their mother tongue. They appreciate the communication in their own language and then also understand it better.” Alfonso needed to communicate to his patient, Lungi Nkunge, who is Xhosa speaking, and could pick up the phone and make use of an isiXhosa interpreter to relay crucial information pertaining to her treatment.

To date, 5 309 tele-interpreting calls have been successfully handled and 1 456 sign language sessions were scheduled for clients.

Since adding sign language interpreting to the service there has been an exponential increase in the utilisation of sign language at facilities as the deaf community embraces this service even more. The interpreters have also assisted many deaf mothers throughout their pregnancy journey, as well as during labour. Imagine going though childbirth in silence – not only are all the doctors and nurses speaking around you and giving instructions, but you are also not able to hear your baby’s first cry. The sign language interpreters allow new deaf mothers to somewhat experience these amazing moments.

One interpreter concluded, “The biggest highlight is the final day when we go to the labour ward – the excitement of the deaf mom when she realises her fears, thoughts and feelings will be acknowledged and understood, and her questions will be answered. One of my favourite parts is interpreting the first cry. It’s every mom’s dream to hear their child’s first cry. The way they smile when you interpret that cry is priceless. The nurses then passes the child to the mom for a few minutes before cleaning and dressing the baby. After that the mom will pass the child to you, saying ‘Hold the baby, you were part of everything’.”

How it works

When presenting at one of the Department’s health facilities, and you are unable to communicate to the reception clerk, point to your language on the poster which advertises the interpreting service. If you, or your escort, can communicate to the clerk ask to make use of this service and they will connect you with an interpreter in the patient’s language of preference.

Sign language, recently announced as the country’s the 12th official language, further emphasises the Department’s forward-thinking culture of being person centric. The Department ensures this service is available, in emergencies and over public holidays. The interpreters are nationally and internationally accredited ensuring they can relay technical information in easy understandable language to our clients.

Tele-interpreting languages available:

Afrikaans; English; Ndebele; Sepedi; Sesotho; Setswana; Siswati; Tsonga; Venda; Xhosa; Zulu; Arabic; Bemba; Igbo; Lingala; Luo Oromo; Shona; Somali; Swahili; Tonga; Tshiluba; Yoruba; Chichewa Kirundi; Amharic; Malagasy; Arabic; Lari; Mandarin Chinese; Japanese; Thai; French; Italian; German; Portuguese; Russian; Spanish