Geneva Health Forum Archive

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First Aid: A Vector for Access to Health in Challenging Contexts

Author(s): E. Bernes1
Affiliation(s): 1Health, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, Switzerland
Key messages:

1 – Individuals and communities have the ability to deal with their health problems.
2 – First Aid builds confidence and capacity of people to tackle emergencies.
3 – First Aiders are agents of change and agents of hope.

Summary (max 100 words):

During armed conflict and other situations of violence, people already vulnerable become more so, and their numbers increase. Apart from the usual injuries or diseases, people suffer from major hazards and risks caused by weapons and by persons resorting to force or violence. First and foremost, these poor security conditions limit the access to the victims by the rescuers, as well as the access to health-care facilities for the population and/or the health-care workers. The disorganization or destruction of the health system jeopardizes the availability of care and other components of primary health care. Availability is reduced for water, food, shelter, etc. There are laws protecting the victims, and subsequently the people who care for them. Some combatants are increasingly unwilling to acknowledge and obey the standards and the rules. Our experience shows that the presence of First Aiders creates a humanitarian space. First Aid remains the initial and fundamental step in emergency care, both daily and during crisis. The majority of lives are saved by neighbours or community volunteers. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement pioneered the concept of immediate response by First Aiders from local communities to disasters, epidemics and the consequences of war and violent disturbances. Today, it helps prevent –or provide an efficient preparedness to – an increasingly broad range of emergencies, reflecting the changing health needs. In Afghanistan and in Sudan, First Aid training is provided to different communities. The National Red Crescent Societies are dedicated to train civilians, while the training of armed groups is ensured by the ICRC. In Haiti, the ICRC is supporting a First Aid and emergency transport service in districts controlled by gangs. These community services are organised on a voluntary basis. They help people to provide immediate treatment, on the spot until the removal in good conditions to appropriate health-care facilities.

Conclusion (max 400 words):

In the context of an armed conflict or other situations of violence, First Aiders maintain a humanitarian link promoting and ensuring access to health for the affected population and the victims. Lessons learned: 1. It is essential to develop not only the means of intervention and the effectiveness of emergency services, but also the individual capacity of each person in the service of his/her community. 2. In challenging contexts, the access to health is far too difficult, even impossible, not to find solutions thorough community self- reliance programmes, such as First Aid. 3. First Aiders help rekindle the humanitarian spirit of individuals and communities, inspiring tolerance and ultimately building healthier and safer living environments.

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