Communicating for health

Multilingual communications

Communications function at WHO

WHO is mandated to be a reliable and trusted source of health information in all its official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish). In emergencies, it needs to quickly generate crucial information in the language(s) of the people affected. Making WHO information accessible in a language that is linguistically and culturally appropriate is one of the guiding ethical principles during infectious diseases outbreaks.

Information in the six official languages can currently reach about 65% of Internet users globally. Recent estimates of all internet users of all websites show that Chinese language use is about 20% of total global internet use, very close to English language use of 25.5%. Globally for any internet use, the rate of increase in Arabic language users is 10 times faster than that of English. In the same time, WHO still needs to go along way in order to harvest well the potential for reaching audiences in their own languages.

To expand its outreach to these audiences and ensure that health information reaches the people who need it, WHO has put in place a framework and developed processes and tools to publish essential content in the six official languages and in different formats. Multilingual communications makes access to health information more equitable and effective; it is supported by several resolutions of the UN and the World Health Assembly, and the WHO Multilingualism plan of action.