A role to develop
Governments around the world are increasingly reassessing their role as
service providers, as many either cannot or no longer wish to bear the burden of
health and welfare. For organisations like National Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies this is opening up new opportunities and challenges on which they can
build and for which they can seek support.
National Societies have a long tradition of providing health care and social
services to the most vulnerable members of the community. As the needs of this
sector of society grow and governments become less willing or less able to
provide direct services, National Societies can look at how they might use the
resources they have available or those they can mobilize to fill the gap.
It is a condition for a National Society's recognition by the ICRC and
admission to the Federation that it be formally recognized by the government as
a "voluntary aid society, auxiliary to the public authorities in the
humanitarian field." The meaning of "auxiliary" has, however, changed over
The original concept was in relation to the medical services of the armed
forces. The need for this dimension of a National Society's work has changed and
varies from country to country. National Societies today are also auxiliaries to
governments in the provision of basic health and social services, such as
ambulances or blood transfusion. In a number of countries, these services are
large-scale and financed by the government; in others, the focus is more on
volunteer involvement in first aid and community health.
In times of crisis, the need for these traditional programmes is
vastly increased. Following the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Red
Cross volunteers worked round the clock for days on end confronting and dealing
with tragic scenes at every turn. After the crisis had passed, they helped
families who had lost a breadwinner and people suffering secondary effects from
the attack. Not surprisingly, the volunteers themselves came to need counselling
something that is becoming more common among aid workers and that the Movement
is taking very seriously. Trauma counselling is also increasingly being provided
as a service for the victims of terrible events and for their families.
The National Societies' role is not limited to service provision; many now
advise governments on policy and practice in responding to the needs of
vulnerable groups, such as refugees and people suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In many ways, National Societies could take greater advantage of their
privileged status vis-à-vis their governments. By the same token, some
governments have yet to recognize the value of Red Cross or Red Crescent
Societies as partners. Now is the time to take a good look at existing
practices, relevant legislation and National Society statutes so as to develop
the respective roles and relationships for the greater benefit of the world's
most vulnerable people.
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