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Program will reach more than 1 million Nicaraguans and strengthen health care capacity

Millwood, Virginia, August 12, 2010

Project HOPE, a global health education and humanitarian assistance organization, in partnership with Merck, a leader in global health care, (known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada), is collaborating with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA) to further advance efforts to vaccinate vulnerable populations against pneumococcal infections, a major cause of pneumonia. The program will vaccinate more than 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, adults ages 50 and older and individuals between the ages of 4 and 49 with indicated chronic diseases.

Through this public-private partnership, Merck will donate to Project HOPE more than 1 million doses of its vaccine PNEUMOVAX® 23 (Pneumococcal Vaccine Polyvalent) and make a charitable contribution of approximately $700,000 to help strengthen health care capacity in Nicaragua over the course of a three-year phased program.

“The lives of more than one million Nicaraguans across the country will benefit from this unique partnership among MINSA, Project HOPE and Merck,” said Dr. Edmundo Sanchez, MINSA Health Surveillance Director. “With the experience of Project HOPE and the resources of Merck, MINSA will be able to coordinate with health professionals across the country who will administer the vaccinations so that people may avoid serious illness and even death.”

Known to lead to serious illnesses, streptococcus pneumonaie, more commonly known as pneumococcal infection can invade the body and cause sinus and lung infections or spread by entering the bloodstream to cause meningitis, bone and joint infections or pneumonias. In 2005, the World Health Organization estimated 1.6 million people die of pneumococcal disease every year worldwide.

As part of the program, Project HOPE staff in Nicaragua will work with MINSA and community health groups to raise awareness and knowledge about pneumococcal disease and its prevention. Prevention is critical as pneumococcal infections are becoming more resistant to common antibiotics making them harder and more costly to treat.

"This public health initiative delivers on Merck's commitment to improving access to our vaccines and helping to build health care capacity through innovative public-private partnerships in the Americas," said Eduardo Cortés, Managing Director of MSD Central America and the Dominican Republic.

Utilizing the charitable funding from Merck, Project HOPE will advance its focus on education and mission to provide sustainable solutions by improving the capacity of local health workers and the national immunization program. Through this initiative, health care workers will be trained to plan and implement successful vaccination programs and strengthen existing immunization efforts. Project HOPE also will provide MINSA with vital equipment and supplies including refrigerators required for the proper storage of vaccines and computers to help monitor and evaluate immunization activities as this initiative progresses.

“Making a positive difference in the health and care of millions through knowledge and education is what Project HOPE does best,” said John P. Howe III, M.D., President and CEO of Project HOPE. “However, HOPE could not improve the health and care of Nicaraguans without the generous support of MINSA and Merck.”

Project HOPE has managed active humanitarian assistance programs in Central and South America and the Caribbean for many years. In Nicaragua, HOPE has implemented maternal and child health programs strengthening local health care capacity in child nutrition, pneumonia case management, immunization and Vitamin A supplementation. The organization also operated a Village Health Bank (VHB) initiative in country that provided microcredit and education to raise awareness about domestic violence, HIV and sexually transmitted infection vulnerability to more than 2,000 women and their partners. Recently, Project HOPE transitioned the VHB program to the Associación Esperanza-Nicaragua, an independent national organization. .

About Project HOPE

Founded in 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is dedicated to providing lasting solutions to health problems with the mission of helping people to help themselves. Identifiable to many by the SS HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship, Project HOPE now provides medical training and health education, as well as conducts humanitarian assistance programs in more than 35 countries. For more information, please visit www.projecthope.org.

About Merck

Today's Merck is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. Merck is known as MSD outside the United States and Canada. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies, and consumer care and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to healthcare through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Merck. Be well. For more information, visit www.merck.com.

Media Contact

Marisol Murphy-Ballantyne
+1-540-257-3746
meuceda@projecthope.org

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