Paris: reaffirming the priority of first aid education

Published: 6 March 2008 0:00 CET

On 29 February, the agreement on the hosting of the European Reference Centre for First Aid Education by the French Red Cross was prolonged for five years. At the signing ceremony, held in Paris, Ibrahim Osman, the Federation’s Deputy Secretary General reaffirmed that first aid services and first aid education was a priority for the world’s largest humanitarian network, not only at the community level, but also in the context of global health issues.

Stressing that “these life-saving skills” should be accessible to all sectors of the population, he pointed to the concrete results achieved by first aid education, “… not only by reducing the number of deaths and injuries but also by helping people to build safer and healthier communities in injury, disease prevention and health promotion.”

The French Red Cross has hosted the European Reference Centre for First Aid Education since 2003 and has been a leader in the development, modernisation and harmonisation of first aid techniques at the European level. Today, in Europe alone, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies train more than 3.5 million people every year.

“First aid is a priority in most of the National Societies - it is at the heart of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. The French Red Cross has long been committed to helping increase National Society capabilities in first aid, and is happy to continue to host the European Reference Centre for First Aid Education for five more years,” said Olivier Brault, Director General of the French Red Cross, at the signing ceremony. “The French Red Cross will continue to actively promote the sharing of knowledge, resources and technical expertise in first aid.”

Over the last twenty years alone, public attitudes to and demand for first aid have evolved considerably. In addition, a new trend revolutionized the field: teaching first aid and performing first aid were no longer the sole domain of medical staff or paramedics. On the contrary, because the first, on-the-spot witness of an accident plays an essential role in the survival of the victim, the general public was encouraged to learn first aid. In this context, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies had to evolve, become more professional and take a ‘marketing approach’ to first aid training.

In his tribute to the French Red Cross for their commitment and belief in first aid, Ibrahim Osman mentioned plans to develop a global collaboration in new first aid guidelines. “In 2008, the Reference Centre, representatives from Europe and other regions will participate in the International First Aid Advisory Board in an evidence-based research project to develop a set of first aid guidelines in 2010. It is a very important and strategic decision for the International Federation to be in this process,” he said. “First aid is a true act of humanity with full respect to diversity and human dignity and a genuine expression of selfless, voluntary service.”

A little history

The European Working Group on First Aid, created in 1991, was re-named the First Aid Education European Network. In 1996, the European Reference Centre for First Aid Education was set up, with the objective of coordinating the Network’s activities.

The year 1993 saw the creation of the European First Aid Certificate (EFAC), on the Network’s initiative and following a decision of the directors general of the Red Cross European Union Societies. The goal was to teach first aid techniques to as many European citizens as possible and to have first aid diplomas recognised throughout Europe. To achieve this, a common set of terms of reference was drawn up, defining the criteria and conditions of recognition. In March 2007, 30 National Societies had 42 programmes that carry the ‘EFAC’ label.

In October 2006, the European Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies created the European CPR/AED Certificate, (Cardio-pulmonary Resuscitation/ Automated External Defibrillation) on the same principles as the EFAC.

In the field of advocacy and public information, things have evolved as well. In 2000, on the Network’sinitiative, following a proposal of the French Red Cross, European First Aid Day was created. Celebrated every second Saturday of September, this event is a good opportunity to celebrate first aid and to launch large public awareness campaigns. The success of this day led to the creation of World First Aid Day by the International Federation in 2003. In 2007, more than 100 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies mobilized their volunteers and staff to organize events around the world, in which more than 1.3 million people participated.

In 2005, a working group was set up to look at first aid education with vulnerable people. The recently-produced resource pack supports National Societies in their plans to integrate first aid with other activities, such as in their work with migrants, the elderly and others.

At the end of 2006, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ first electronic, on-line first aid manual, was published ( The European First Aid Manual (EFAM) is designed as an easy-to-use, top-level reference for first aid instructors and authors, to help them develop publications and other didactic materials. The project was initiated by the Belgian Red Cross and supported by the European Commission. It brought together 29 European experts to draft a set of guidelines, based on the results of scientific studies, on how best to administer first aid in certain situations. Some are innovative, and the manual also includes existing guidelines such as the generalized positioning, in public places, of automated external defibrillators, which can re-start a heart that has stopped or is beating irregularly.