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Multilingualism and Language Barriers in Health Delivery system in Ghana

Gladys Nyarko Ansah
Elizabeth Orfson-Offei


In this paper, we explore language differences among health givers and seekers as a potential barrier to quality healthcare delivery among the urban ethnolinguistically diverse population in Accra, Ghana. 134 patients and 42 health workers from five health facilities were selected as respondents to fill questionnaires and be engaged in semi-structured interviews which aimed at investigating the general language situation in healthcare delivery and determine whether language differences cause barriers to quality healthcare delivery. Using descriptive statistics and the thematic analysis of findings, the data revealed that both patient and health worker participants have varying ethnolinguistic backgrounds (speaking many different L1s). In addition, 65% of the patient population and 70% of health worker population in urban Ghana access and provide healthcare respectively in a second language, mainly English and Akan. For a highly linguistically diverse population, these findings have a potential to cause language barrier and raise miscommunication in the healthcare delivery process in urban Ghana - 64% and 81% of patient and health worker populations respectively admitted to experiencing communication barrier (occasioned by language differences) in the health care system. The findings of this paper corroborate earlier findings in the literature, e.g., Adams and Fleck (2015), Belaskri (2012), Chachu 2022 and Schyve (2007). The paper, therefore, concludes that health authorities in highly multilingual contexts need to pay (more) attention to the language needs of ethnolinguistically diverse populations to ensure quality and safe healthcare delivery.

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eISSN: 2026-6596