Today is being celebrated as World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. The observance is held on May 8 annually as it falls on the birthday of the movement’s founder, Henry Dunant. The holiday celebrates not only Dunant but also the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s seven fundamental principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.
- The idea for the Red Cross was born in 1859, when Dunant, a young Swiss man, came upon the scene of a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy, between the Austrian army and the Franco-Sardinian alliance. Some 40,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield and the wounded were lacking medical attention. Dunant organised local people to attend to their needs and, on his return, called for the creation of national relief societies to assist those wounded in war.
- The Red Cross was officially established in 1863 when Dunant, along with Gustave Moynier, Louis Appia, Theodore Maunoir and Guillaume-Henri Dufour, set up the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, later to become the International Committee of the Red Cross.
- The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was founded in 1919 in Paris in the aftermath of World War I. The war had shown a need for close cooperation between Red Cross Societies, which, through their humanitarian activities on behalf of prisoners of war and combatants, had attracted millions of volunteers and built a large body of expertise.
- Its emblem was a red cross on a white background, the inverse of the Swiss flag. The Red Cresent is recognised instead in Islamic countries.
- The Red Crystal became an official symbol in 2007, as a neutral emblem for states objecting to the cross or crescent on religious grounds. It was adopted as a compromise to allow Israel to join in 2006.
- The organisation led to the first Geneva Convention, which was signed by 12 countries in 1864. Ten articles were signed, granting protection of international law both to wounded enemy soldiers and those caring for them.
- The IFRC is established in 189 countries and has more than 97 million staff, members and volunteers.
- The organisation has won three Nobel Peace Prizes, in 1917, 1944 and 1963.
- The Jamaica Red Cross was established in 1948. It works provides services in the areas of disaster preparedness and response, first aid, search and rescue, HIV/AIDS, social welfare, environmental problems and more.