MSD: Increasing awareness in Ireland of the issue of health literacy

Business in the Community Ireland

Company Description

MSD is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. The company is known as Merck in the United States and Canada and MSD elsewhere.  MSD employs more than 2,300 people in Ireland across five manufacturing sites, an animal health commercial operation, a sales, marketing and clinical research centre and an EMEA shared Business Services Centre.


Business Issue

According to the International Adult Literacy Survey conducted by the OECD in 1997, over   50% of Irish adults are affected in some way by literacy difficulties.  A 2011 EU Health Literacy Survey found that nearly 40% of Irish people have inadequate or problematic health literacy.  Health literacy involves a person being able to understand basic health information and therefore make informed health decisions.


Solution Applied

In 2007, MSD established a partnership with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) to increase awareness among the public and healthcare professionals of the issue of health literacy.  The objective was to generate debate on the issue and empower the public to become more health literate.  This skill helps people increase their knowledge and subsequently make informed decisions about their own health.


To date, initiatives have included the sponsorship of Ireland’s first PhD study in health literacy in UCD, support of the first Audit of Health Literacy in Healthcare Settings, the hosting of a national conference on Health Literacy in 2010 and the annual Crystal Clear MSD Health Literacy Awards to recognise and reward excellence in health literacy amongst people working in the health care sector.


Company Benefits

As a stakeholder in Ireland’s healthcare system, the company feels it has a responsibility to work with stakeholders to improve health literacy.  In turn this partnership approach to addressing a leading social issue has helped MSD develop stronger links with partners in health.  In implementing the annual MSD Crystal Clear Health Literacy Awards to reward excellence in health literacy for those working in the health service, company representatives have the opportunity to discuss MSD’s commitment to health literacy with its customers working in frontline health services.


Stakeholder Benefits

The health literacy agenda in Ireland has developed considerably since the MSD/NALA partnership began.  MSD’s commitment and funding has provided opportunities for the health, academic and literacy fields within the area of health literacy to inform Government policy and result in better informed and more empowered patients.




  1. In addition to a formal partnership with NALA, MSD engaged stakeholders across the healthcare field to develop the health literacy strategy.  This was key to ensuring the programme met the needs of healthcare professionals and their patients in the best      possible way.


  1. Ensure all materials are clear!  NALA  provides a plain English service which offers advice, resources, editing  and training.  Visit  for more information.


Department Involved

Access, Policy & Communications


Solution Champion

Nicola Fullam, Communications Manager,


Web Link to Video of Practice