World First Aid Day: saving lives amid Covid-19

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By Khalid bin Majeed

The World First Aid Day is being celebrated today around the globe, but in an entirely changed world this time. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) introduced the World First Aid Day in 2000 and it is celebrated on second Saturday of September every year with an aim to raise public awareness of how first aid can save lives in everyday and crisis situations as well as to encourage first aid training for all. Initially the theme for World First Aid Day 2020 was chosen as ‘First Aid for Schoolchildren’ but it was later changed to ‘First Aid during Covid-19 Epidemic’, since schools had been closed for months due to global outbreak of coronavirus.

While Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped almost the whole world, it has also given new meanings and dimensions to the first aid. Knowing first aid at all times, especially in emergencies, is important but it became extra important in the wake of Covid-19 epidemic because going to medical facilities was not recommended and people would spend more time at home. Hence, for as many people as possible, at least one in each household must know how to provide first aid to themselves and others in time of need.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is a world leader in providing first aid, and for more than 150 years, first aid has been one of the essential services provided to the injured by volunteers of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The Pakistan Red Crescent Society has been continuously working on training the population on how to provide first aid during any emergency situations. Even during the Covid-19 peak days in Pakistan, when all routine trainings had been suspended, the PRCS first aid trainers, under the Corona Muhafiz Response Campaign, remained engaged in providing psychosocial support to the Covid-19 patients at their doorsteps as well as hospitals. The premise of psychosocial support intervention was to control the side- and after-effects on psychosocial aspects of an infectious disease and attempt to minimize psychological impact with timely assessment, prevention and control.

The scare of Covid-19 has been so strong and widespread that it has stolen all the attention of the world capitals due to which important health issues like the annual child immunization, blood donation campaigns, first aid training sessions and a slew of important health issues paled into insignificance. These issues have now shaped up into another serious challenge for the world to tackle.

It is heartening to note that compared to the regional and international situation, the disease has subsided in Pakistan, with daily infections curtailed to a few hundred now. Though the battle is not over yet and there may be still a long way to go, the improvement in domestic situation of disease demands that other serious health-related issues, especially the stalled first aid training (FAT) program, must be addressed with dedication, devotion and commitment.

The Covid-19 pandemic also slammed the breaks on the PRCS FAT program, disabling the first aid educators from continuing their activities. However, as the situation has eased up, the PRCS has resumed its flagship FAT program on full scale under the leadership of its Chairman Abrar ul Haq. The aim of the program is to make the communities resilient to absorb shocks from any natural or manmade disasters.

Under the FAT program, thousands of people from public, private and corporate sector and students of almost educational institutions from schools to colleges and universities have been trained by the PRCS. In a landmark development, the PRCS first aid curriculum has also been accredited by the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination.

Currently, the PRCS is actively planning to institute a ‘Red Crescent Corps’ (RCC) on the pattern of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) of the past. Among other things, the first aid training will also be a core component of the RCC under which trainings for emergency response and blood campaigns will be imparted. Under a long-term strategy, the scope of RCC will be expanded to all provinces and efforts will be made to make it an integral part of early college education just like the NCC trainings. The objective of the initiative is to raise a whole generation of trained youngsters who are readily available to help out in the wake of any large-scale emergency or disaster situation in the country.

Efforts are on to make first aid part of the syllabi to achieve the aim of developing a resilient nation which is able to deal with the pre- and post-disaster shocks through better planning and response. Talks with the federal and provincial governments are in progress for incorporation of first aid in the national syllabi.

The PRCS is a huge humanitarian organization with extensive network in every nook and corner of the country. Being part of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as well as a member of the ICRC and IFRC, the PRCS has movement partners in 194 countries of the world. As the international community celebrates World First Aid Day today, it is important that our government shows seriousness towards this issue and gives ownership to the first aid training program of the PRCS which will definitely help transform Pakistanis into a resilient nation.

The writer is Secretary General of Pakistan Red Crescent Society.