I often say that I have the worst and the best job in the world: the worst because I go to places around the world where normally terrible events have happened or are taking place; the best because I am constantly inspired by the spirit of the people I meet, who show courage and compassion for others in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, even when their own very survival is in the balance.
This week I have been lucky to travel to Abidjan, capital of Côte d’Ivoire, for a good news story – which unfortunately is not something I often get the chance of doing. I met with Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan and, together with the French government, we signed off on an unprecedented deal which will see more than half a million children and their mothers benefit from free health care.
This is thanks to a debt reduction contract between France and Côte d’Ivoire, under which the Agence Française de Développement has transferred 18 million euros to ECHO, the humanitarian office of the European Commission. It is the first time that ECHO is receiving funds in this way and as such is a huge vote in the quality of the service we deliver. The funds are going to support four health clinics in the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the country and in particular the government’s goal of creating a targeted free health care programme for pregnant women and children under the age of five.
After the ceremony, which for me was a very sweet and happy occasion, I was able to visit Abobo Sud hospital, which serves a densely populated part of Abidjan. A sign above a main door read “Entrez sans crainte” – Enter without fear. And indeed that is exactly what is happening more and more as Côte d’Ivoire continues its remarkable and swift recovery from the post-election violence which divided the country until so recently.
The hospital sees at least 60 expectant mothers every day; four thousand births have taken place here this year with a resounding success in lowering the mothers’ and the infants’ mortality rates.
To round off a rare day of celebration I met the Prime Minister again at a meeting for AGIR, our resilience initiative for the region’s countries. What I saw and heard greatly encouraged me; the message is getting through that the old ways of delivering aid are no longer sufficient to tackle the complex root causes of crises, which include climate change and demography.
AGIR’s main objective is to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable people in the face of these ever more frequent and more intense crises. All the participants at the meeting committed themselves to developing national resilience plans by next Spring.
Our meeting took place in the city’s Hotel de Golf, where 2010’s much-delayed national elections ended with the winner, Alassane Outtara, sheltering there with his cabinet, surrounded by UN peacekeepers as violence raged on the streets outside. The venue.could have not been more symbolic of the eternal truth that where there is a will there is a way – that when you make the right choices for people good will always triumph in the end. It was a thought which recurred to me when I remembered too the face of a happy, healthy infant who smiled and laughed with me at Abobo Sud Hospital.