“To improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilising the power of humanity.”
A Swiss entrepreneur and Christian philanthropist, Henri Dunant (1822-1910), is generally credited with starting the international Red Cross movement, which now has societies in 181 countries across the world. Dunant chanced to witness the battle of Solferino, where French and Italian troops under Napoleon III clashed with the forces of the Austrian empire. In a famous memoir, Un Souvenir de Solferino, Dunant recorded the carnage that he saw, and the lack of care for the wounded and dying, and proposed that the nations of the world should form relief societies to assist the wartime wounded. The Geneva Society for Public Welfare (a Swiss NGO of the time) took up his ideas, and hosted an 1864 conference where leaders of 16 nations came together to discuss them. Those leaders signed a treaty – now popularly known as ‘the Geneva Convention’ – pledging to allow medical workers onto battlefields, to treat them as neutral, to allow the delivery of medical supplies, and to recognise and respect the famous red cross on a white background as an emblem of neutrality.
Red Cross societies were set up across Europe and beyond, and now have 97 million members and volunteers worldwide. The International Federation was established in 1919 to foster closer cooperation between the national Red Cross societies that were rapidly becoming established. It bases its work upon, and seeks to spread, the Red Cross’ seven ‘fundamental principles’ – humanity impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. The International Federation opened its East Asia regional delegation in Beijing in 2000. This assists national Red Cross Societies in the region to prepare for disasters by adopting an integrated disaster management approach and by working with communities at risk to improve their ability to cope with disasters.
In addition, the Federation provides technical assistance to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission in East Asia and to improve the care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.
The IFRC has recently been supporting a Red Cross Society of China pilot project to help TB patients in a remote corner of Shanxi Province. Red Cross volunteers help supervise an increased dose of medication to fight TB, while offering psychosocial support. Patients also receive supplies of nutritious food and help with transport to hospital.