6th Pan African Conference: from strategy to implementation

Published: 7 September 2004 0:00 CET

Roy Probert in Algiers

Representatives of Africa’s 53 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies meet in Algiers over the coming six days to assess how to better utilise their network of 2 million volunteers to address the continent’s many challenges.

The 6th Pan African Conference of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies brings together not only all the National Societies in Africa, but representatives of the wider Red Cross Red Crescent Movement: sister National Societies from other regions, the International Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Also in Algiers will be key partners from government, UN agencies, other humanitarian organisations, academia and the private sector.
The main themes of the Pan African Conference – public health, including the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and food insecurity – reflect some of the biggest obstacles to development in Africa.

For Africa is beset by many seemingly insurmountable problems. This is a region where the figures for key indicators like HIV prevalence, life expectancy at birth or child mortality are far worse than any other developing region in the world. Half the continent’s population lives in poverty, some 180 million people are severely undernourished and there is widespread vulnerability to natural disaster.

These are challenges too enormous for the Red Cross and Red Crescent to tackle alone. Yet with their unrivalled network of community-based volunteers, the National Societies increasingly have a role to play in partnership with other organisations.

The Algiers conference is essentially a consolidation of the work done at the last Pan African Conference in Burkina Faso in 2000, when the outcome was the Ouagadougou Commitment.

At the 5th Pan African conference, the National Societies agreed to focus their attentions on selected health interventions, including HIV/AIDS, and on food security by strengthening the mobilisation of their volunteer network – the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s greatest resource.

In Algiers, the three main themes will be structured under three headings: partnerships, resource mobilisation and social mobilisation. Essentially Algiers will assess the progress made by National Societies in fulfilling these commitments and outline what needs to be done to make them a reality.

“Algiers must be seen in the context of Ouagadougou, which is regarded as something of a watershed for the Red Cross/Red Crescent in Africa,” says Richard Hunlédé, head of the International Federation’s Africa department. “Since Ouagadougou, we have seen many success stories in which the Red Cross Red Crescent has played a role.”

Since 2000, individual National Societies have made great strides in implementing HIV/AIDS peer education and home-based care programmes, as well as developing anti-stigma policies for the work place.

In the field of public health, 50 million children have been reached by Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers during polio vaccination campaigns, while the measles mortality rate has been slashed by 35 per cent. The Red Cross/Red Crescent has also been a driving force in scaling up anti-malaria interventions in conjunction with measles campaigns.

“Most of these success stories have been achieved in collaboration with other partners,” Hunlédé says. “One of the central issues during the Algiers conference will be how the International Federation and National Societies in Africa can build on existing partnerships with governments, UN agencies, other humanitarian actors and the private sector - and build new ones – so as to better serve the needs of the most vulnerable.”

A crucial step taken in Ouagadougou and one that is likely to be endorsed in Algiers is that, rather than trying to do everything with limited resources, the Red Cross and Red Crescent needs to concentrate on doing a few things well. It was for this reason that health, HIV/AIDS and food security were chosen.

“These are the biggest humanitarian challenges facing the countries of Africa today,” says Razia Essack-Kauaria, secretary general of the Namibian Red Cross and a member of the International Federation’s governing board. “In Ouagadougou we made the right strategic choice about the areas where we needed to focus. That choice reflects the main humanitarian challenges in Africa. Now we must move towards a greater ownership of this strategy by National Societies and a wider implementation of this strategy,” she adds.

The fact that the Red Cross Red Crescent’s priorities tie in so closely with internationally identified objectives – and specifically the Millennium Development Goals – makes it much easier to establish successful partnerships that address Africa’s most urgent challenges.

Good examples of this have been the involvement of the International Federation and individual National Societies in major global public health campaigns such as the Measles Initiative, Polio Eradication and Roll Back Malaria.

Similarly in the field of HIV/AIDS, six National Societies in Africa, all with well established home-based care programmes, have launched pilot projects to provide support for anti-retroviral treatment (ART) efforts by their national ministries of health.

By giving nutritional support and psychological and social support, and ensuring that patients take their medication, they are not only complementing the clinical care offered by the state, they are also working towards the World Health Organisation’s goal of getting 3 million people in developing countries onto ART by 2005.

Red Cross HIV/AIDS home-based care programmes in Southern Africa have become an important vehicle for addressing the growing problem of food insecurity.

The decimation of whole generations by the pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the ability of communities to feed themselves. In partnership with the World Food Programme, National Societies and the International Federation targeted vulnerable households for food aid.

This collaboration with the WFP is continuing today in Chad and Darfur, where more than one million displaced people are facing severe food shortages.

In Algiers, there will be many case studies presented that highlight the way National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, supported by the International Federation, are playing a pivotal role in alliances to combat Africa’s ills.

“We hope these success stories will encourage National Societies throughout the whole of Africa to really take ownership of this strategy and use it to improve their activities at community level. I would like to see Algiers consolidating our role as a reliable and effective partner in efforts to assist the vulnerable,” Hunlédé says.


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies . As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright