HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced the United States has formally accepted the revised International Health Regulations (IHR), and will begin the process of implementing these new international rules immediately instead of waiting for them to take effect in June 2007. Secretary Leavitt made the announcement during a week-long visit to the People?s Republic of China.
The International Health Regulations are an international legal instrument that governs the roles of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its member countries in identifying and responding to and sharing information about public health emergencies of international concern. The updated rules are designed to prevent and protect against the international spread of diseases, while minimizing interference with world travel and trade. Many of the provisions in the new regulations are based on experiences gained and lessons learned by the global community over the past 30 years.
?As we have seen recently with SARS and H5N1 avian influenza, diseases respect no boundaries. In today?s world, a threat anywhere means danger everywhere,? Secretary Leavitt said. ?The improved global cooperation that will come from implementing these new International Health Regulations represents a major step forward for global public health.?
First adopted by WHO Member States in 1969, the current IHRs apply to only three diseases: cholera, yellow fever 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.
Under the revised regulations, countries that have accepted the IHRs have much broader responsibility to take preventive measures against, as well as to detect 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 to be taken 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, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and new strains of human influenza — whose occurrence Member States must immediately report to the WHO. In addition, the regulations provide an algorithm to determine whether other incidents, including those of a biological, chemical or radiological nature, constitute public-health events of international concern. The rules also provide specific procedures and timelines for announcing and responding to public health events of international concern.
Countries that intend to accept the IHRs may submit reservations and understandings regarding their implementation of the Regulations.
The United States has accepted the IHRs with the reservation that it will implement them in line with U.S. principles of federalism. In addition, the U.S. Government has also submitted three understandings, setting forth its views that (1) incidents that involve the natural, accidental or deliberate release of chemical, biological or radiological materials are notifiable under the IHRs; (2) countries that accept the IHRs are obligated to report potential public health emergencies that occur outside their borders to the extent possible; and (3) the IHRs do not create any separate private right to legal action against the federal government.