World First Aid Day – From Solferino to ‘first aid for all’

Published: 10 September 2008

Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world are steadily and significantly expanding their first aid programmes and increasing access to first aid services and training for the general public, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, on World First Aid Day.

“We’ve come a long way since the battle of Solferino, when Henry Dunant, mobilized volunteers to provide first aid to all the war wounded, regardless of their nationality, nearly 150 years ago (1),” notes Grace Lo, Head of the International Federation’s Public Health in the Community Unit, in Geneva.

“First aid used to be recognized as the domain of medical or para-medical personnel. Today, all experts recognize that the general public must be trained in first aid, because it is effective in saving lives, improving the chances of survival and minimizing the consequences of a road crash or heart attack,” explains Grace Lo. “These skills should also be updated regularly.”

First aid is a core activity for virtually all the Federation’s 186 member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and, according to initial reports from National Societies, there is a steady increase in the number of staff and volunteers involved in first aid, either to provide services in crisis situations or to train the general public.

With hundreds of thousands of staff and volunteers involved in first aid, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are the most important providers of first aid services and training globally. In Europe alone, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies train some 3.5 million people every year in first aid – that is 56% of the estimated 6.2 million people trained in life-saving techniques annually on the continent. In 2007, the American Red Cross trained 5.4 million people, nearly half of the 10.9 million total who followed first aid courses.

“These increases are in line with our global policy of up-scaling first aid programmes and achieving a minimum of one person per household trained in basic first aid in as many countries as possible,” says Grace Lo. “Every single person in the world has the capacity to save a life – it is an essential gesture of solidarity. First aid education should be accessible to all without discrimination.”

The percentage of people trained in first aid is also increasing in many countries. Although the figures vary widely, according to data collected by the International Federation’s European Reference Centre for First Aid Education, hosted by the French Red Cross in Paris, some countries are achieving remarkable results, such as Norway (with 90% of the population trained in first aid), Austria and Germany (80% each). Measures to achieve these results can include making first aid education mandatory to obtain a driving license or teaching it to children in schools, or requiring that teachers be trained.

The International Federation introduced World First Aid Day in 2000, and each year, more than 100 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world organize events and ceremonies on the second Saturday of September to raise public awareness of how first aid can save lives in everyday and crisis situations.

(1) Geneva businessman Henry Dunant is the founder of the International Red Cross. After the battle of Solferino, in June 1859, he was horrified at the sight of thousands of dying men on the battlefield, and mobilized volunteers from the nearby village of Castiglione to provide first aid to all the wounded soldiers, without distinction