Posted By: John P. Howe, III, M.D. on September 27, 2010

Labels: Nicaragua , Humanitarian Aid, Partners, Volunteers

I was an unexpected visitor in the homes of Nicaraguans, throughout the country, last Friday morning.

As a guest on the top-rated Nicaraguan morning show Primer Plano with its host, Adolfo Pastran, my message about Project HOPE was beamed into households across the country.

The focus of my message was to let Nicaraguans know about the pneumococcal vaccine program HOPE is conducting with the Nicaragua Ministry of Health, thanks to the generous donation of 1 million doses of vaccine from Merck & Co., Inc.

Communication is a critical element of any public health campaign. While ensuring that 1 million Nicaraguans will not develop pneumonia – Latin America’s #1 killer – is a monumental task, it will not achieve its objective without awareness of the program.

After my live 30-minute interview on Primer Plano, I returned to my hotel for a media briefing with several Nicaraguan television, newspaper and magazine reporters. I spent more than two hours with the reporters enlisting their support to make sure as many Nicaraguans as possible become aware of this vaccine initiative.

One reporter with whom I met with was Oscar Miranda Uriarte, perhaps the most recognized media personality in Nicaragua. Oscar said that 44 years ago he stood on the dock at Corinto reporting as a young journalist on the visit of the SS HOPE to Nicaragua. He told me that on that first historic visit, many Nicaraguans thought the SS HOPE belonged to the country’s First Family because at the time the First Lady’s name was Hope.

I also met with a young magazine journalist, Esther Pirado, from NICASALUD, the country’s organization of NGOs of which HOPE is a member. Esther is the daughter a nurse who received training from the American volunteer nurses aboard the SS HOPE in 1966. To this day, Esther’s mother, as well as the other Nicaraguan doctors and nurses who received training on the SS HOPE, still come together to share stories about their life-changing experience.

One observation made in my blogs from Honduras, holds true in Nicaragua as well. And that is the high caliber of the HOPE staff. Though smaller in number than their Honduras colleagues, the Nicaragua HOPE staff is accomplishing great things with its limited resources.

Under the direction of Dr. Mario Ortega, who has been among the leadership of HOPE Nicaragua for 15 years, the organization is well respected among the country’s health care leaders. So respected are HOPE and Dr. Ortega, that he has been asked to join a Pan American Health Organization team to conduct a countrywide assessment of vaccination programs. This is an immense honor for Dr. Ortega and HOPE.

HOPE’s objective in Nicaragua is to provide sustainable health care programs to address the country’s most pressing health care challenges. With the expertise of the HOPE staff, and with the support of the Nicaragua Ministry of Health, there are no limits to what we can accomplish together.


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