I am honoured to be with you today on behalf of the American Red Cross and our International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to discuss the ways in which our global network contributes to international co-operation for development and humanitarian assistance.
In 1919, the American Red Cross and four other national Red Cross Societies founded the League of Red Cross Societies - now our International Federation - to co-ordinate efforts to reduce vulnerability to diseases and disasters.
The men and women of that time sought to create a global network, working internationally as the civil society parallel to the League of Nations and nationally as auxiliaries to their governments. They saw shared principles as the underpinning for their worldwide humanitarian work.
Since then, our network of national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has grown to encompass national organisations in almost every country in the world - truly a global network of unparalleled humanitarian potential.
This Red Cross and Red Crescent network has unique capabilities and potential. It is not just an organisational network, for it also includes almost 100 million volunteers around the world. The National Societies and their volunteers work in partnership with others to protect the vulnerable and address their needs.
In this way we also work together for the improvement of economic and social conditions around the world and, in partnership with the United Nations family, for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Though most visible for our work in disaster preparedness and relief, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about our work to reduce vulnerability to diseases, an increasingly important segment of our work internationally which directly contributes to at least four of the MDGs.
Communicable diseases cause an estimated 13 million preventable deaths each year. Most of these deaths are of children in developing countries. International donors, technical agencies, and other interested parties such as the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Roll Back Malaria, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, are working to increase funding to combat these diseases.
Yet, achieving high coverage rates, ensuring access for the most vulnerable, and ensuring equity among the poorest who cannot pay for services are still major challenges facing us.
While we are increasing the supply side of disease control and strengthening service delivery mechanisms, more attention to the demand side of control programmes is needed. Communities and individuals must know about, want, and seek needed services on a routine ongoing and sustainable basis.
This inclusion of communities was, for example, an important part of the IFRC presentation to the meeting of European Ministers of Health and Environment which took place in Budapest two weeks ago with a special focus on children.
Our Budapest presentation, like others in different contexts around the world, shows how Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies can and do offer a unique contribution which offers real and practical benefit for the most vulnerable. We also show how that contribution is multiplied exponentially when effectively partnered by governments.
We mobilise our global networks of volunteers to engage in social mobilisation for a variety of health interventions. To make this effective, we have developed active programmes to build the capacities of our National Societies and their branches. This is an essential part of our work, and deserves much more visibility and attention from governments and international organisations. It is fundamental to our joint task of meeting the increasing demands posed by vulnerability everywhere in the world.
This capacity building is, as the IFRC Vice President said during the High Level Segment of this Session of the Economic and Social Council, a basic ingredient of any effective approach to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Without the involvement of communities in the design and implementation of programmes, many of the MDG targets will remain a dream.
This is why the IFRC at global level, and National Societies at country and local level, are playing an increasing role as partners in global health alliances against major public health problems, working with national governments and Ministries of Health, with WHO, UNICEF, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the UN Foundation and other global, regional and local partners.
In our work with our partners, we work to integrate the needs and concerns of vulnerable communities, so the cross-sectoral dimensions of our programmes are clear. After all, there can be no meaningful national development programme without careful and structured attention to health priorities.
In addition to their traditional role in disaster and outbreak response activities, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers have been increasingly engaged in ongoing programmes related to diseases, including HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Polio Eradication and others.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are also increasingly involved with their partners in and out of government around the world in programmes aimed at stigma and discrimination so often found wherever communicable diseases strike. This is especially true for HIV/AIDS. This is a central plank of the IFRC approach, and will be a strong part of the presentation the IFRC team will make at the International Conference on AIDS, which convenes in Bangkok on 11 July, just two days from now.
Our work is multi-faceted, using the best abilities of our National Societies and their members and volunteers, and utilising the efficiency and skills of our global network. One good example comes from the work of my National Society, the American Red Cross. Since 2001, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have taken an active part in mass vaccination campaigns against measles, as part of the Africa measles partnership, strongly supported by the American Red Cross.
By the end of 2005, more than 200 million African children will have been vaccinated, preventing several hundred thousand measles deaths annually. To date more than 125 million African children have been vaccinated in 25 countries with Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies involving more than 50,000 volunteers for social mobilisation, logistics, and follow-up activities.
These renewed efforts in measles control have offered opportunities to accelerate other important interventions, including the mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets for malaria prevention among children under 5 years and pregnant women.
Demonstration projects were conducted with success in selected districts in Ghana in 2002 and in Zambia in 2003. A nationwide campaign is under preparation in Togo for December 2004, combining measles vaccination with nationwide distribution of mosquito nets to eligible households, with participation of Red Cross volunteers for community mobilisation before and during the campaign.
In partnership with the Togo Ministry of Health, local WHO and UNICEF staff, some NGOs, and with a number of other partners, we look forward to a substantial impact on malaria morbidity as a result of this nationwide partnership effort.
Partnerships like those are operationally essential to the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 8 on partnerships for development. Equally, they are essential for work against poverty (MDG 1). It goes without saying that they are fundamental to achieve MDG 4 on child mortality and MDG 6 on HIV/AIDS.
As an international network with a unique bridging role, we believe that governments should proactively recognise the value of the broader engagement of civil society and NGOs as partners. Similarly, we have built active collaborative relationships with the private sector. In health fields, we find that partnerships with drug companies and those involved with nutrition and other basic needs make a major contribution to our success.
Partnerships when linked to an active role for the volunteers are essential for sustainable public health interventions. Interventions, when linked to the work of governments at all levels, provide a real prospect of improved health for the most vulnerable populations and tangible progress towards the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals.
President, These are points which governments have willingly accepted in the Agenda for Humanitarian Action, adopted by Governments and National Societies sitting together as equal partners at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2003.
That forum, which is in many respects the fulfilment of the dream of our founders in 1919, sets a large part of the world's humanitarian agenda, and it is my earnest hope that ECOSOC will take decisions which will bring that value into the working processes, especially at operational levels, throughout the United Nations family.
Thank you for your continued investment in and partnership with the Red Cross and Red Crescent.