The international working group has “decided on a way ahead” to alter the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Rules so that they are better equipped to combat future pandemics, according to the WHO.
WHO member states have offered 307 revisions, and last week’s meeting was largely devoted to their explanations. While the standards establish uniform approaches and requirements for countries to prepare for and respond to disease outbreaks, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed numerous shortcomings.
WHO reports that the majority of last week’s meeting, the second of the working group, took place behind closed doors. However, an agreement was made on “next measures to tackle more in-depth negotiations on the proposed revisions and arrangements for its next meeting running 17-20 April.”
Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, co-chair of the IHR Working Group, stated that when debating revisions to the Rules, nations focused on better preparing their country and the international community for future calamities.
Dr. Bloomfield, former Director-General of Health in New Zealand and co-chair of the working group, stated that COVID-19 demonstrated the importance of a robust set of International Health Rules and highlighted the areas where the current regulations need to be strengthened. The tone of the discussions and the progress made during this week’s meeting demonstrate that countries recognize their responsibilities to ensuring the success of this process.
Saudi Arabia’s deputy health minister, Dr. Abdullah Assiri, stated that new legislation “would enable the globe to detect epidemics earlier and prevent them from escalating into international health crises.”
Assiri stated, “Countries are in the driver’s seat for this process, as they must implement the IHR, fulfill their commitments, and make the crucial decisions required to respond to public health concerns.”
During the pandemic, there was an urgent need for international tools to function, and international organizations, such as WHO, gained in prominence. Parallel to the discussions of IHR amendments, member states are negotiating the drafting of a pandemic accord to address prevention, preparedness, and response.
The fourth meeting of the inter-governmental board to consider the zero drafts of the accord began on Monday and will continue until March 3. Bloomfield emphasized the complementary nature of the two processes “The attempts to amend the IHR and negotiate a pandemic pact share a number of common themes, including the significance of equity in health access, teamwork, and capacity building,” he said. It is essential that consistency and alignment exist between the two processes.
The IHR are legally binding on member states and establish rights and obligations for countries, such as the responsibility to report public health occurrences with the potential for worldwide spread to the WHO. In addition, they establish the conditions for a public health emergency of international concern, the WHO’s highest degree of alert under the IHR, which activates particular response activities for countries to prevent the spread of epidemics.