OSAKA — Osaka Prefecture will take steps to increase the number of volunteer interpreters at its hospitals in an effort to better deal with the variety of foreign languages spoken by patients, it was learned Friday.

The prefecture will aim to expand registration for such volunteers during fiscal 2001 by working with nonprofit organizations that train volunteer interpreters, sources close to the prefectural government said.

One prefectural hospital known for its psychiatric department began an interpreter registration system in June as a step toward improving communication between staff and patients. But while a handful of volunteers have signed up, most interpret between Japanese and Chinese only, officials said.

The prefecture hopes the expanded program will bring in interpreters for a greater variety of languages, including Korean and Spanish, they added.

The move comes as Osaka prepares for the opening of the Osaka International Convention Center in April and the expected opening next spring of the amusement facility Universal Studios Japan.

In addition, the city of Osaka is to be one of the venues for the 2002 soccer World Cup, which Japan and South Korea will jointly host.

Prefectural officials say such events are almost certain to lead to an influx of foreign tourists and businesspeople. Appropriate measures, they say, need to be taken.

By encouraging prefecture-run hospitals to make greater use of interpreters, officials said they hope private hospitals will follow suit.

Observers say the move could also lead to a greater number of non-Japanese patients being able to give informed consent to their medical treatment.

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