Addressing Critical Gaps in International Health Regulations
Governments from around the world engaged in a detailed examination of over 300 proposed amendments to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR) last week.
During this fourth round of intensive discussions, held under the Working Group on Amendments to the IHR (WGIHR), the 196 State Parties to the IHR, including WHO’s 194 Member States(1), focused on several key topics for proposed amendments, aiming to strengthen the global response to health crises.
Proposed Amendments Under Scrutiny
The discussions centered around the following topics:
- Responsible authorities – Article 4
- Notification, verification, and provision of information – Article 5 (paragraph 4 and new paragraphs 5). Articles 6-11, Annex 2, and new Annex 2
- Determination of public health emergency of international concern – Article 12
- The Emergency Committee – Articles 48, 49
- Temporary and standing recommendations – Articles 15, 16, 17, 18
Aiming for Improved Preparedness and Response
The International Health Regulations, initially known as the International Sanitary Regulations, were adopted to provide agreed-upon approaches and obligations for countries to prepare for and respond to disease outbreaks and public health emergencies with international implications.
Since its adoption in 2005, the IHR has been revised twice, in 2014 and 2022, in response to emerging challenges.
The latest proposed amendments come in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed vulnerabilities in global public health systems and emphasized the need for further improvements.
Working Towards Success
Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, former Director-General of Health, New Zealand, and Co-Chair of the IHR Working Group, expressed satisfaction with the progress made during the five-day meeting from 24-28 July.
He highlighted that the discussions were aimed at revising crucial areas of the IHR identified by the State Parties following their experiences with COVID-19.
The tone of the meeting indicated a shared commitment to ensuring the success of the amendment process and strengthening the global public health architecture.
Upholding Principles of Equity, Sovereignty, and Solidarity
Throughout the meeting, the WGIHR emphasized the importance of thoroughly considering the proposed amendments and evaluating their potential to fill critical gaps in the implementation of the IHR.
In doing so, they kept the principles of equity, sovereignty, and solidarity among nations in mind.
A Joint Effort for a Safer Future
Dr. Abdullah M. Assiri, Deputy Minister of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Fellow IHR Working Group Co-Chair, highlighted that countries lead the process, propose essential amendments to the IHR, and make decisions to address global health threats.
Their positive attitude and efficient work have already produced substantial progress.
However, both diligence and effort will be required between now and the Working Group’s upcoming meeting in October to ensure the strengthening of the IHR.
Parallel Progress on Pandemic Accord
Governments are also negotiating the drafting of a WHO instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, commonly known as a pandemic accord, in addition to the IHR amendments.
The INB and WGIHR held a joint Plenary meeting on 21 and 24 July to explore the relationship between the processes and instruments of the INB and WGIHR and address common interests.
An Instrument of Global Cooperation
The IHR, an essential instrument of international law, legally binds 196 State Parties, including all 194 WHO Member States.
Governments continue their efforts to improve and adapt these regulations in light of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, propelling the world towards a safer and better-prepared future for global health emergencies.