About health and social services

Around the world, hundreds of thousands of volunteers work in communities to promote health, prevent diseases and demonstrate positive values through their actions. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and its National Societies actively support communities through their network of volunteers, their community-based approach, their expertise and experience.

The past decade has seen major gains towards improving global health. Today, less people die of measles or malaria and the number of new HIV-infections has been stabilized in some countries.

At the same time, implementing primary health care at the community level remains a challenge:

  • Worldwide, an estimated 14 million people continue to die each year from infectious diseases. Many more suffer from malnutrition and disruption of livelihood

  • More than 1 billion people don't have access to safe water

  • 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.

  • More than 500,000 women die each year in pregnancy or childbirth and still too many children die before their fifth birthday.

This situation will get worse because of global trends such as climate change, population growth and ageing, urbanisation, migration, food and water shortages, poverty, emergent diseases and the lack of access to health services.

Global health and social services approach

The IFRC approaches health and social services from three directions:

  • Seek to expand the access that people in under-served communities have to primary and public health services, including during emergencies

  • Support improved health care

  • Encourage action on the underlying social, behavioural and environmental factors that determine good health

The IFRC has committed to:

  • Continue to promote the community health approach set forth in the Health and Care Strategy 2006 – 2010. This means to continue to prioritise support to National Societies primarily in the areas of health promotion, community mobilisation, disease prevention and control, preparedness, first response and social care.

  • Work towards the integration of community-based health programming as opposed to disease-specific initiatives. By improving health care before a disaster, communities will benefit from better health care in a disaster.

  • Maintain a strong capacity to lead and coordinate major international relief operations in emergency health, water and sanitation.

  • Advocate and support advocacy on priority humanitarian issues, especially by promoting human dignity in fighting intolerance, stigma and discrimination.

  • Work with partners to contribute to improve health, economic and social conditions.

Partnerships and alliances

Working together is critical to address the complex health challenges posed by humanitarian crises. The IFRC has partnered with WHO and other humanitarian organizations and agencies, as well as with other organizations that are active in health domains.

The IFRC also works in global and operational alliances which allow partners to share and pool their resources to achieve results that could not be achieved alone.

Examples of the IFRC's partnerships and alliances include: the Global Water and Sanitation Initiative, the involvement in the Global Measles Initiative and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the chair of the Alliance for Malaria Prevention, the participation in the Stop TB Partnership, the involvement in the GNP+ (Global Network of People living with HIV), and the participation in the UN system Inter-agency Technical Working Group on Influenza.

Contributing to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The Millennium Declaration is the most comprehensive international consensus ever reached on how to improve the lives of the most vulnerable worldwide. While all of the MDGs have implications for community health and safety, the following goals have special importance for the IFRC in the field of health and social services.

Health and social services programmes

Health and social services activities of the IFRC are characterized by their diversity – they range from long standing activities such as first aid, voluntary non remunerated blood donation and emergency services to new programmes such as health promotion, addressing stigma, providing psychosocial support and enabling community empowerment.