The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.
In 1979 the ICRC set up a unit for the physical rehabilitation of war victims. Since then, 73 projects have been initiated and/or assisted in 32 countries. Over two-thirds of the projects are carried out in close cooperation with government ministries, because physical rehabilitation is usually part of the national health structure. Other operational partners, such as National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies, often lack the mandate or the necessary expertise and resources to run a fully operational prosthetic/orthotic centre on their own.
Since the creation of the unit, hundreds of thousands of individuals have received orthopaedic appliances, usually accompanied by physiotherapy.
Three types of assistance are provided: technical (e.g. patient management guidelines, polypropylene prosthetic technology), educational (e.g. professional courses, sponsorships), and financial (e.g. investment costs, running costs for imported materials). Most programmes require uninterrupted, full-time assistance for many years before the ICRC’s partners can achieve full technological, managerial and financial autonomy. Financial autonomy in particular is often a major difficulty, as physical rehabilitation is rarely a health priority in countries where the ICRC operates. However, it is essential that after the withdrawal of the ICRC these projects continue to provide services for the disabled, whose needs in terms of replacement and repair of orthopaedic appliances are lifelong.
After their handover to other partners, most programmes are monitored by and receive assistance on a smaller scale from the ICRC's Special Fund for the Disabled (see SFD annual report 2002).