Health :: New International Health Regulations Enter Into Force in the United States

US HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced that the revised International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) enter into force for the United States. The updated rules are designed to prevent and protect against the international spread of diseases while minimizing interference with world travel and trade.

They will help countries work together to identify, respond to, and share information about, public health emergencies of international concern.

The U.S. government formally accepted the IHR in December 2006 and began the process at that time of implementing these new international rules.

?Today?s world of rapid air travel, international migration, emerging diseases, threats of terrorism, and the potential threat of an influenza pandemic, underscores the importance of the International Health Regulations,? Secretary Leavitt said. ?The improved global cooperation that will come from implementing these revised regulations represents a major step forward for global public health.?

The International Health Regulations are an international legal instrument that governs the roles of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its member countries (Member States) in relation to disease outbreaks and other public health events with international impact. They establish a framework for countries that are party to the regulations to promptly and transparently report on and to respond effectively to health events that present a risk of spread to other countries and potentially require a coordinated international response.

Many of the provisions in the new regulations are based on the experience the global community has gained and lessons it has learned over the past 30 years, including the emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and H5N1 avian influenza.

The previous version of the IHR, when adopted in 1969, applied to only four diseases: cholera, yellow fever, smallpox and plague. However, in recent decades, increases in international travel and trade, along with marked developments in communication technology, have led to new challenges in the control of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. Among these new challenges are the threats posed by the natural, accidental, or deliberate release of chemical, biological, or radiological materials. The IHR take a more general approach towards defining health emergencies and are applicable to all of these new challenges.

Under the revised regulations, countries that have accepted the IHR have a much broader responsibility to take preventive measures against, as well as detect, report on, and respond to, public health emergencies of international concern. The regulations give the WHO clearer authority to recommend to its Member States measures that will help contain the international spread of disease, including public health actions at ports, airports, land borders and on means of transport that involve international travel.

The revised regulations include a list of four diseases — smallpox, polio, SARS and human cases of new strains of human influenza — that Member States must immediately report to the WHO. The regulations provide an algorithm to determine whether other incidents, including those of unknown causes or sources, may constitute public-health events of international concern, and as such must be reported to the WHO. The rules also provide specific procedures and timelines for assessing, reporting, and responding to public health events of international concern.

To meet the requirements of the IHR, the federal government will rely upon already strong state and local reporting networks to receive information about public health events of concern. In addition, actions taken by state and local governments to respond to public health events within their jurisdictions will facilitate U.S. fulfillment of the objectives of the IHR.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has the lead role in carrying out the requirements of the updated IHR, in cooperation with many other departments and agencies of the U.S. government. The HHS Secretary?s Operations Center is the central body responsible for reporting events to the WHO.

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