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Lost in translation: be aware of patients’ lives

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 28 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1253
  1. Joe Gallagher, general practitioner, The Palms Surgery, Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland
  1. joejgallagher{at}

I was working in a village on the shores of Lake Malawi. The queues were long and were growing because there was an outbreak of dysentery in the village. It seemed that many of the cases came from an area of the village known as the “big market,” and I had gone to great lengths to advise all parents that they must boil the water before drinking it. However, I seemed to see the same parents bringing in their children one after the other. Frustration built up, and, finally, when one woman returned for the third time with another child with bloody diarrhoea I became irate.

I asked Dorothy, the translator, to ask the woman why she had not boiled her water and to tell her that it was her fault that her children were getting sick because she was not boiling …

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