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Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Imagine Reality Check: Health Care Infrastructure, Part 3: The International Red Cross

   When a disaster happens around the world, one of the first humanitarian groups to respond is the Red Cross (or Red Crescent).  We expect that this not-for-profit group of nurses, doctors and behind-the-scenes logistics workers will reach out to those caught in war, flooding, famine and other calamities.  As of 2015, there are 189 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, meaning that 189 countries not only value but actively engage with this movement [1]

   Where did the vision come from to start such an organization?  It was born out of the strong Christian faith and concern for humanity of Swiss merchant Jean Henri Dunant.  As he travelled on an official errand, he happened to witness the cruel and needless deaths on a battlefield in Solferino, Italy in 1859.  At the time, he took action to beg with the army leaders to release any captured medical personnel to help save the wounded and tried to mobilize volunteers in neighboring towns to assist as well.  The experience led him to write a memoir and to work with others in establishing an organization that would be neutral and non-discriminatory in meeting human needs.  Although it began in Switzerland, the merit of the idea caught on in many countries of Europe and North America, and beyond.
   The Red Cross organization was founded in 1863, but Dunant did not remain at the helm for various reasons; his business interests went bankrupt, and thus he lost social standing among the other philanthropists who took up his mantle.  It was not until nearly forty years later when Dunant was honored and recognized with the very first Nobel Peace Prize. These words of congratulation were issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva:
There is no man who more deserves this honour, for it was you, forty years ago, who set on foot the international organization for the relief of the wounded on the battlefield. Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century, would probably never have been undertaken.” [2]

[1]  According to the website of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

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