Bla ndai*

*Goodbye in baoulé

At the end of this wonderful period in Côte d’Ivoire, it is a good moment to look back and write a wrap-up of all my experiences here.

After my arrival in Man early September 2013, I was immediately thrown in the water. The least you can say is that this start was not optimal. The 2 persons I spoke with when I was still in Belgium were absent. One was on an emergency mission in Central African Republic, and the other left Save the Children due to medical reasons. Also the project itself had a difficult start. It was planned to initiate in July, but finally really got off in September, while the end date was kept at 31 December. Local staff came only on board half August. All this implied that the project activities had to be conducted in 4 months time. Extra layer of difficulty was the execution of the project via 2 local partner organisations. So first these organisations had to be trained on specific logistical, financial, monitoring & evaluation and community mobilisation procedures. Only end September we started working in the field. The period in the field was the most challenging but also most interesting period for me. Going via bad roads (“pistes”) to small villages in the field (“brousse”), getting to know the harsh living conditions of the people, helping with training of community health volunteers, screening of malnourished children, conducting a base survey, discussing with the partner organisations, helping to keep the project on track…, it was all part of the experience. In the last 2 months of my stay here, I helped with writing reports, translating and filling in all kind of paperwork. Also the next phase of the project was prepared, to be executed in 2014-2015. By early February, we received the good news that the project was approved for the next 2 years! Everybody happy off course, and we started preparing and discussing the action plans and budgets with the partner organisations.

I also had the opportunity to be part of an evaluation mission for a new health & nutrition project in the Daloa region, a cacao-producing area. This included taking surveys at cocoa cooperatives, visiting health centers in the countryside, and helping to write the project proposal and budget. And, believe it or not, I participated in the discussion and writing of a project proposal to be financed by GSK. Main planned activities are to help the vaccine program in 5 sanitary districts, improve the blood transfusion centre of Man, and support child nutrition in the health centres of one sanitary district. Until now, no final decision about the implementation has been taken, but the probability for approval seems very high. Parallel with all these activities, we organized the Day for Child Survival in Man on 23 October 2013. With more than 1000 children, and in presence of the local authorities, this sport and advocacy event was a big success. We even appeared in the national television news edition. Finally, to make the picture complete, during this whole period we managed to move twice to a new office (with all the hustle this includes)!

All this would not have been possible without the support of the Health & Nutrition staff of Save the Children in Man. First of all the project core team: Blaise N’Dri, Program Officer, Linda Ouattara, assistant Community Mobilisation, and Benjamin Collins Tarlue, assistant Health and Nutrition. Because of the good spirit in the team, we always kept a positive vibe, could overcome most of the problems and did finalize the challenging project in time. Un grand merci also to all other staff of Save in Man and in Abidjan who helped or supported me in one way or another.

Finally I would like to thank GSK, and more specifically the science writing management and malaria staff, to give me this unique opportunity to work with and help directly people in need here in Côte d’Ivoire. In Belgium, as a member of the team developing a vaccine against malaria (Plasmodium falciparum), I was and will continue working for the people in sub-Saharan Africa. But you don’t feel or think much about this in your daily job, writing another clinical trial report. By being here, seeing the enormous problems with malaria and malnutrition, and helping with activities such as screening of malnourished children, it makes you feel more useful, as the help and impact is very concrete and direct.

I want to end with a few strong numbers, to make you realize how fortunate we are to live in Belgium and the western world.

In Côte d’Ivoire, out of 9 children, one dies before its fifth birthday. For the northern part of the country, even one in five children does not reach its fifth birthday. Main causes are malaria, malnutrition, respiratory infections and diarrhoea. 63% of the population lives in poverty. 38% of the women between 15 and 49 years are excised (genitally mutilated). 39% of the children between 5 and 14 years work regularly. 38% of women and 61% of men can read and write. Fertility rate is 5 children per women, resulting in an annual population growth rate of 2.6%. Life expectancy at birth is 53.1 years.

Save the Children team in Man

Save the Children team in Man

During a school visit in Bangolo

During a school visit in Bangolo