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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was founded in 1919 in Paris in the aftermath of World War I. The war had shown a need for close cooperation between Red Cross Societies, which, through their humanitarian activities on behalf of prisoners of war and combatants, had attracted millions of volunteers and built a large body of expertise. A devastated Europe could not afford to lose such a resource.

It was Henry Davison, president of the American Red Cross War Committee, who proposed forming a federation of these National Societies. An international medical conference initiated by Davison resulted in the birth of the League of Red Cross Societies, which was renamed in October 1983 to the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and then in November 1991 to become the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The first objective of the IFRC was to improve the health of people in countries that had suffered greatly during the four years of war. Its goals were "to strengthen and unite, for health activities, already-existing Red Cross Societies and to promote the creation of new Societies". There were five founding member Societies: Britain, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. This number has grown over the years and there are now 189 recognized National Societies - one in almost every country in the world.

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