GENEVA (Reuters) – The International Health Regulations remain a cornerstone of public health security and need improving in some areas, but not major changes, the chair of a World Health Organization (WHO) panel reviewing the 2005 rules said on Tuesday.
Lothar Wieler, chair of the independent panel, told the WHO’s Executive Board: “There is a growing belief in the Committee that most improvements can be achieved through a more effective implementation of the existing mechanism of IHR and do not require at this point changes to the IHR.”
The rules, which went into force in 2007, require WHO’s 194 member states to advise WHO within 24 hours about health emergencies. They lay down provisions for taking measures on international travel and trade if justified on health grounds.
“Countries may be reluctant to report on events if they perceive consequences, mainly related to travel and trade, deriving from early notification. The current IHR requirements for notification and verification, as well as information sharing by WHO, need further examination,” the panel said in an interim report issued on Tuesday.
Austria’s envoy, speaking on behalf of the European Union – which has called for WHO reforms – told the board that the bloc attached “great importance” to the regulations but that the world had not been prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need to rethink prevention, control and response to global health crisis,” said Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austrian ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva. “That is why the EU and its member states stand ready to explore ways to reinforce IHR implementation, including an effective system of compliance evaluation.”
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay. Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Potter