HomeNews & Views Leading with Local Sign Language: Health Practitioners Help Heal with Communication

Leading with Local Sign Language: Health Practitioners Help Heal with Communication


Health practitioners who work internationally come face to face with some of the most devastating, life-changing illnesses in the world. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB, is one such illness where treatment can result in permanent hearing loss. These illnesses provide challenges to health practitioners not only medically, but communicatively.

Celumusa Hlatswako, a mobile counselor and member of Doctors Without Borders, works in Swaziland with MDR-TB patients. Traveling with an outreach team, Celumusa visits patients’ homes and teaches them more about MDR-TB. To communicate with patients whose treatment caused hearing loss, Celumusa learned the basics of the regional sign language vernacular and continues to attend classes with his patients to advance his skill level.

 “Sign language is so interesting, it’s not hard. It’s interesting because you’re adding some languages in your life.”

 Learning the regional sign language is not only helpful for Celumusa, but for the patients as well. Although patients can hardly ever return to their previous jobs, learning the regional sign language presents new opportunities for work, which counselors such as Celumusa encourage. “I am thankful I learned sign language,” says Winile, one of Celumusa’s MDR-TB patients.

The field of international healthcare continues to grow as treatments become more accessible and international programs like Doctors Without Borders more popular. Learning sign language is just one example of how learning local languages as a practitioner can impact entire communities abroad and provide them a pathway to a healthier tomorrow.


Are you interested in putting your language skills to work internationally or joining the healthcare profession?  Check out our Health Care sector profile for ideas about university programs, study abroad opportunities, internships, fellowships, and much more! Or learn about other “Voices from the Field” on Doctors Without Borders’ site.

Or are you a pre-Health student or current practitioner using those language skills in the field? Let us know @LeadWLanguages on Twitter!