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Global health regulations amended for future pandemics

After five days of discussions last week on how to amend the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR) to make them more able to combat future pandemics, the international working group has “agreed on a way forward”, with 307 changes being proposed.

While the regulations set out common approaches and obligations for countries to prepare for, and respond to, disease outbreaks, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed many weaknesses.

At last week’s meeting, the second held by the working group, agreement was reached on “next steps to tackle more in-depth negotiations on the proposed amendments, and plans for its next meeting from 17-20 April”, the WHO said.

Throughout the week-long meeting, the 194 member states of WHO, who are also state parties to the IHR, stressed the importance of enhancing capacity building, especially in low-income countries; access to benefits arising from sharing pathogens; equitable access to medical countermeasures; and enhanced co-operation and information sharing.

Co-chair of the IHR Working Group Dr Ashley Bloomfield said governments focused on making their countries, and the international community, better prepared for future emergencies.

“Covid-19 showed us … where the current regulations need to be improved,” said Bloomfield, former Director-General of Health in New Zealand.

Better detection

Co-chair Dr Abdullah Assiri, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Health Minister, said updated regulations “will enable the world to better detect outbreaks early, and prevent them from developing into public health emergencies of international concern”.

“During the pandemic, the world faced the urgent need for functioning international instruments, and placed increasing importance in international organisations, such as WHO.

“Updated regulations will enable the world to better detect outbreaks early, and prevent them from developing into public health emergencies of international concern. This is about strengthening our collective ability to do that and to better protect everybody.”

The IHR are legally binding on member states and create rights and obligations for countries, including the requirement to report public health events with risk of international spread to the WHO.

They also outline the criteria for a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest level of alarm under the IHR, which in turn triggers specific response actions for countries to prevent the further spread of the epidemics.

WHO member states first issued the International Sanitary Regulations in 1951, the precursor to the IHR, which came into being in 2005. The IHR are an instrument of international law that is legally-binding on 196 state parties, including the 194 WHO member states.


World Health Organization article – Governments hold first detailed discussions on proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) (Open access)


Health Policy Watch article – Countries Agree on Process to Amend International Health Regulations Governing Pandemics (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


World ‘dangerously unprepared’ for another pandemic: Red Cross


Independent COVID-19 response review: WHO and governments failed


Bafflement as WHO says DRC Ebola crisis ‘not an international health emergency’




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