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Red Cross and Red Crescent societies

In 1859, Swiss businessman Henri Dunant was horrified by the slaughter he witnessed during battle, and with Florence Nightingale’s work in the Crimea as his inspiration decided to found the Red Cross movement. It was set up in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, by five private individuals. The idea behind the Red Cross was to ensure armies coordinated the work of their volunteers to care for the sick and wounded. It provided training for both men and women in caring for the sick and wounded, and spread new nursing techniques across the world.

Dunant also proposed that countries should adopt an international agreement which would recognise the special status of medical services and the wounded on the battlefield. This agreement - the original Geneva Convention - was adopted in 1864. In 1919 the International League of Red Cross Societies was established to coordinate the activities of Red Cross movements from different countries. They were responsible for both wartime and civilian care. During the Second World War the Red Cross colleted more than 13 million pints of blood and processed about 10 million pints into plasma.

The Red Crescent emblem was first used in 1876, and in 1929 the two movements were formally joined to create the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Bibliography

P Samuelson (ed.), I Owe My Life...British Red Cross- Celebrating 125 Years (London: Bloomsbury, 1995)

C Moorehead, Dunant's Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red Cross (London: Harper Collins, 1999)

Glossary:

Plasma

The liquid component of blood, in which the blood cells are suspended. Plasma makes up around 55 per cent of blood's total volume.