World First Aid Day: Red Cross Red Crescent launches the global harmonization of life-saving gestures

Published: 10 September 2004

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates that tens of millions of lives are saved each year by first aid techniques applied by neighbours or bystanders to victims of accidents or disasters. Although Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies care for millions of people and train millions more in first aid, the International Federation has been active in promoting and developing life-saving practices across the world, in order to increase the proportion of families where at least one member has been trained in first aid.

In the context of these efforts, and to mark World First Aid Day (11 September), the International Federation is launching the first-ever recommendations on the international harmonization of life-saving practices. The document presents a set of common principles to apply in specific situations, such as the emergency removal of a casualty, or caring for a person suffering from severe external bleeding, skin burns or a fracture.

These recommendations are intended as a guide for people in charge of the development of first aid training, and can be adapted to disasters or mass casualty situations, such as the Bam earthquake in Iran or the Madrid bombings. They are also meant to facilitate the dissemination of life-saving practices, since it has been proven that fatalities and the severity of accidents significantly decrease with widespread public knowledge of first aid.

“Harmonization does not mean standardization. The intention is not to impose one technique per situation, but rather to present common principles to be respected in each life-threatening situation. This guide is meant to be further developed and added to and ultimately lead to the creation of an International First Aid Certificate,” says Federation Secretary general Markku Niskala.

The process of harmonization of first aid practices and techniques has been conducted methodically by the International Federation, using existing scientific evidence, field experiences and inputs from experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross, among others. In 1996, The Federation and the WHO organized the first seminar ever to bring together first aid experts from around the world to compare existing techniques. It was hosted in Lyon by the French Red Cross. It was found that although first aid techniques differ, common principles are always applied – for example, there are more than 10 methods to stop simple bleeding from a skin wound, but all use local pressure.

Since 2003, regional first aid certifications have been adopted in Europe. These allow people who hold a Red Cross first aid certificate from one country to have it recognised by other countries in the region. Other regions are expected to follow suit in 2005.

“The harmonization of techniques facilitates the work of rescuers who are called in from abroad in case of a major crisis, since they can perform common life-saving techniques with their colleagues,” points out Markku Niskala. “But we must remember that first aid is more than a technique, it is also an essential expression of solidarity, which protects and saves lives.”

This year, more than 110 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies across the world will organise events under the theme “First Aid – a gesture of humanity which makes the difference” to mark World First Aid Day, which is celebrated on the second Saturday of September. Events will highlight the importance that simple practices can make, in saving lives and building safer and more humane communities.