• home

    Regional Initiatives in Group Buying - The Red Cross and Red Crescent Experience


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2001

    International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are key players in the procurement of humanitarian aid goods and services. Each year they purchase hundreds of millions of dollars worth of items from suppliers around the world. One example is the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement which works toward making the purchase of first aid materials more cost effective and quality-assured.

    First aid is a fundamental part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's humanitarian mission to protect and save lives. Through its 176 National Societies worldwide and approximately 80 million volunteers, the Red Cross and Red Crescent is a leader in the training and delivery of first aid. From managing outbreaks of major diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, to providing treatment to heart attack or accident victims, first aid provides an initial rapid response to help people and minimize a health emergency's impact. First aid is also a crucial part of public health campaigns to inform people about safe health practices and lifestyles.

    To deliver first aid, the Red Cross and Red Crescent use training materials including mannequins and kits containing basic materials and drugs. The contents of first-aid kits may vary, but the main items include lighting, cleaning and disinfectant products, bandages, compresses, wound plasters, burn dressing, tape adhesive, scissors, splinter forceps, pain killers, thermometer, rescue blanket, note pad, pencil and an injury registration form. Each year, the Red Cross and Red Crescent trains approximately 25 to 30 million people in first aid. It is responsible for an estimated 70% of the first-aid procurement market.

    At the moment, the market for first-aid materials is fragmented both on the supply and buyer level. Many suppliers integrate materials from different sources and assemble them to create a kit. Other suppliers produce and distribute all the materials themselves. On the buyer side, each Red Cross and Red Crescent National Society, and sometimes each branch, purchases for its own needs. The diversity of supply and procurement systems makes it extremely difficult to ensure the best value and quality of materials.

    To make the procurement of first-aid materials more cost effective and to ensure superior quality levels, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is supporting regional initiatives for group buying. These initiatives aim to obtain discount prices through purchasing bulk quantities of first-aid equipment and materials by National Societies and other interested groups. IFRC will assist participating organizations with preparing a list of needed materials and negotiating favourable contracts with suppliers. Group buying will also enable the IFRC to develop a reference system for first-aid equipment. This system can subsequently be used to define standards and support quality-control efforts.

    IFRC is also working to strengthen local capacities to produce first-aid materials. Its goal is to reinforce a community's awareness and interest in first aid, to ensure kits include materials relevant to the local context, and to reduce the cost of maintaining them. For example, the IFRC is helping National Societies by identifying appropriate local materials and procedures to manufacture the mannequins used in training.

    This project introduces new ways for the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the business community to work together. It serves as a bridge bringing an entrepreneurial attitude towards humanitarian goals, and humanitarian thinking within the business community.

    Eric Bernes is project manager of the First Aid Global Project at the IFRC and can be contacted at bernes@ifrc.org