1968 – 2008: 40 years of medico international

1968 – 1978: The early days in Biafra and Vietnam

medico international was set up in May 1968. This is a time of upheaval after the devastating wars in Vietnam and Biafra. For the first time, television brings images of emaciated children and distant horrors into living rooms in the evening news. Tens of thousands take to the streets, calling for an end to the war, and they develop new forms of practical solidarity.  medico starts by collecting physician (drug) samples, medications and old clothes, and in August 1968 the first major aid consignment flies out: Drugs worth 37,000 Deutschmark, destination: Biafra. The second shipment flies out in January 1969, again to Biafra, but now weighing 11 tons. This early success calls for more - the creation of a formal association, an office, a warehouse for aid items. The drugs are followed by the secondment of co-workers to provide emergency relief after earthquakes and floods, such as those in Peru in 1970. A fleet of vehicles is established; when the ambulances are not needed abroad, they are used on German roads in cooperation with the national relief and welfare organisation *Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund (ASB)*.

Over the course of time, focus shifts towards the political context, as piercing questions arise about the social causes of need and suffering in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Politicisation changes the work of medico, which is no longer content to supply emergency relief, but wants to promote autonomous development – helping people to help themselves. Initial projects, like the attempt to create a “socio-medical complex” in drought-plagued Mali in cooperation with the government, fail. The programme is too big, and impossible to oversee from far-off Frankfurt. medico looks for partners, and finds them in the liberation movements then struggling against continuing colonial rule or corrupt dictators. The first cooperative ventures are in the Sahara and Cap Verde, and they are followed by others.

1978 – 1988: South Africa, Central America, Near and Middle East – liberation aid

The 80s are marked worldwide by liberationist struggles, and medico tries out what is subsequently known as “liberation aid” at many spots in the world. This always takes the form of medical aid, but no longer just through shipments of drugs. In accordance with the primary health care concept also adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1978, medico and its partner organisations establish primary health care services.

They do this in the context of struggles, in “liberated areas” or to assist refugees: in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, in Chile, South Africa and Namibia, in the Palestinian camps and settlements in Lebanon, and later in the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey. This naturally affects medico’s public relations work. Where it initially centred solely on collecting donations, and accordingly appealed to people's direct compassion, it is now used for political education at home, as “information aid”. Such an approach also leads to conflicts with official German policies, and in the same measure to participation in the “solidarity movement”.The name defines the programme – critical solidarity, and not just aid, is part and parcel of medico’s self-image ever since. The greatest burden and constraint to the work is constantly the omnipresence of violence.

The causes also lead back to Germany, for example in the case of the Iraqi army’s massacre of the Kurds in the city of Halabja. As German poison gas is used here, medico and its partners not only provide emergency relief and reconstruction aid in the affected region, but subsequently also strive for years to obtain restitution from the German companies which share responsibility for these atrocities.

1988 – 1998: A change of era and globalisation

The results of many liberation struggles fell short of expectations. Naturally, often because of the violence of the situation; but it was and still is also due to the political and economic upheaval which is soon given the name of “globalisation”.

medico is also obliged to reorient, and it does this initially by sticking to combining primary medical services and critical solidarity. Medical assistance to landmine victims results in 1993 in an initiative of medico and the Vietnam Veterans of America, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which seeks a global ban on landmines. The public pressure generated by the campaign leads to over 100 nations signing the Ottawa Landmine Treaty in December 1997. Two months earlier, in October 1997, the campaign was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work. This experience becomes a case study for medico: in an age of globalisation, local aid needs global publicity, requiring global – or at least transnational – networking and campaigning.

1998 – 2008: Global solidarity

Among the changes of the past decade is the fact that the global network in which medico is embedded has become a far-reaching element in “bottom-up globalisation”. In 2000, for example, medico organised an international conference of 20 partner organisations dealing with psychosocial project work. Not only does this promote sustainable and ongoing networking, but it leads furthermore to cross-border cooperation in project work itself.

A similar result was obtained from the People’s Health Movement (PHM), also formed in 2000 by 93 health organisations from all over the world. The joint activities range from local projects, to demonstrations, to lobbying – against neoliberal destruction of health services, the exclusion of minorities and refugees, against drug patents, protective tariffs and world market prices. Participation in PHM is being continued in the Alter-globalization movement associated with attac and with transnational social fora.

Today, the network of medico partners includes some 60 projects involving local primary health care aid and global social rights. The right to health is always included - the WHO in the Declaration of Alma Ata defines health as: “…a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity; [health] is a fundamental human right, and the attainment of the highest possible level of health is a most important world-wide social goal whose realisation requires the action of many other social and economic sectors in addition to the health sector.” medico will continue to be guided by this in its fifth decade.