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Medicine and Disease

Red Cross

When was the Red Cross founded?

The Red Cross was founded in Switzerland in October 1863 when the delegates from 16 nations met in Geneva to discuss establishing “in all civilized countries permanent societies of volunteers who in time of war would give help to the wounded without regard for nationality.” The idea had been described in a pamphlet published in 1862 by Swiss philanthropist Jean Henri Dunant (1828–1910). In 1859 Dunant was in Italy when French and Italian troops under Napoleon III fought Austrians under Emperor Francis Joseph in an indecisive battle in Lombardy (northern Italy). At Solferino, Dunant observed the suffering of the wounded and immediately organized a group of volunteers to help them.

At the Geneva conference in 1863, the delegates decided the organization symbol and name: The name of the organization comes from its flag showing a red cross on a white background—the inverse of the flag of Switzerland, where the organization was founded. The following August (1864), European delegates met again; this time they were joined by two American observers. The meeting gave rise to the first Geneva Convention, which determined the protection of sick and wounded soldiers, and of medical personnel and facilities during wartime. The Red Cross was adopted as a symbol for neutral aid. In Muslim countries the organization is known as the Red Crescent.



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