Progress was made this week on many of the over-300 proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR). In this fifth round of intensive discussions, taking place under the aegis of the Working Group on Amendments to the IHR (WGIHR) – which includes the 196 States Parties to the IHR, the European Union and the Observer Delegation of Palestine – participants discussed proposed amendments including those in the areas of:
- Points Of Entry
- Public Health Measures
- Health Documents
- General Provisions
- Final Provisions
- Definitions, Purpose and Scope, Principles and Responsible Authorities
- The Emergency Committee
- Decision Instrument for The Assessment and Notification of Events.
The Working Group also discussed a consolidated proposal by the proponent States Parties of proposed amendments to Article 13A Equitable Access to Health Products, Technologies and Know-How for Public Health Response, as well as Article 8 Consultation.
It was agreed that efforts should continue during the intersessional period (before the next meeting of the WGIHR in December), including:
- discussions between proponents of various proposed amendments, with a view to presentation of any outcomes for the consideration of the drafting group;
- intersessional briefings and facilitated intersessional consultations covering Articles, Annexes and topics discussed during this and previous meetings of the WGIHR, including those that have been the subject of intersessional work. This includes also work on financing for public health emergencies and IHR implementation, and the Public Health Alert – PHEIC – pandemic continuum, including definitions, criteria and the process for determining each. The outcomes of facilitated intersessional consultations will not constitute agreed text and will be made available in advance of the next WGIHR meeting in December 2023; and
- preparation, as relevant, by the Bureau with the assistance of the Secretariat, of draft text proposals based on the discussions so far, for consideration by the Working Group at the Sixth Meeting.
“We will continue work on a range of issues in the intersessional period before WGIHR6, as well as in early 2024. We are confident that we will be able to deliver on our mandate by the 77th World Health Assembly. The will is there,” said WGIHR Co-Chair Dr Abdullah Assiri of Saudi Arabia.
“We have a very strong shared focus on our mandate to deliver a package of targeted amendments to the IHR and ensure that equity is reflected in the IHR. It would be easy to make the IHR worse. It will be hard to make them better. We will focus on the hard task, making them better,” said WGIHR Co-Chair Dr Ashley Bloomfield of New Zealand.
The Co-Chairs noted that, in reference to Decision WHA75(9), it appeared unlikely that the package of amendments would be ready by January 2024. In this regard, the Working Group agreed to continue its work between January and May 2024. The Director-General will submit to the 77th Health Assembly the package of amendments agreed by the Working Group.
The original International Sanitary Regulations were adopted in 1951 under the WHO Constitution to set out agreed approaches and obligations for countries to prepare for, and respond to, disease outbreaks and other acute public health events with risk of international spread. The original International Sanitary Regulations were revised three times – in 1969 (when they became International Health Regulations), in 1981, and in 2005.
The IHR are an instrument of international law that is legally-binding on 196 State Parties, including the 194 WHO Member States. The IHR, in their version adopted in 2005, have been amended twice – in 2014 and 2022 (the most-recent amendments will come into force in May 2024). The newest proposed amendments come in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
(1) Liechtenstein and the Holy See are State Parties to the IHR but not Member States of WHO.