International Health Regulations
The International Health Regulations 2005 are legally binding regulations (forming international law) that aim to a) assist countries to work together to save lives and livelihoods endangered by the spread of diseases and other health risks, and b) avoid unnecessary interference with international trade and travel.
The purpose and scope of IHR 2005 are to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in ways that are commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. (Art. 2, IHR 2005)
The International Health Regulations Evolution
The International Health Regulations originated with the International Sanitary Regulations adapted at the International Sanitary Conference in Paris in 1851. The cholera epidemics that hit Europe in 1830 and 1847 made apparent the need for international cooperation in public health. In 1948, the World Health Organization Constitution came about. The Twenty-Second World Health Assembly (1969) adopted, revised and consolidated the International Sanitary Regulations, which were renamed the International Health Regulations (1969). The Twenty-Sixth World Health Assembly in 1973 amended the IHR (1969) in relation to provisions on cholera. In view of the global eradication of smallpox, the Thirty-fourth World Health Assembly amended the IHR (1969) to exclude smallpox in the list of notifiable diseases.
During the Forty-Eighth World Health Assembly in 1995, WHO and Member States agreed on the need to revise the IHR (1969). The revision of IHR (1969) came about because of its inherent limitations, most notably:
- narrow scope of notifiable diseases (cholera, plague, yellow fever). The past few decades have seen the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases. The emergence of “new” infectious agents Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever and the re-emergence of cholera and plague in South America and India, respectively;
- dependence on official country notification; and
- lack of a formal internationally coordinated mechanism to prevent the international spread of disease.
These challenges were placed against the backdrop of the increased travel and trade characteristic of the 20th century.
The IHR (2005) entered into force, generally, on 15 June 2007, and are currently binding on 194 countries (States Parties) across the globe, including all 193 Member States of WHO.
In 2010 at The Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and Their Destruction in Geneva  the sanitary epidemiological reconnaissance was suggested as well-tested means for enhancing the monitoring of infections and parasitic agents, for practical implementation of the IHR (2005) with the aim was to prevent and minimize the consequences of natural outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases as well as the treat of alleged use of biological weapons against BTWC States Parties. The significance of the sanitary epidemiological reconnaissance is pointed out in assessing the sanitary-epidemiological situation, organizing and conducting preventive activities, indicating and identifying pathogenic biological agents in the environmental sites, conducting laboratory analysis of biological materials, suppressing hotbeds of infectious diseases, providing advisory and practical assistance to local health authorities.
The Principles Embodying the IHR (2005)
The implementation of IHR (2005) shall be:
- With full respect for the dignity, human rights and fundamental freedom of persons;
- Guided by the Charter of the United Nations and the Constitution of the World Health Organization;
- Guided by the goal of their universal application for the protection of all people of the world from the international spread of disease;
- States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to legislate and to implement legislation in pursuance of their health policies. In doing so, they should uphold the purpose of these Regulations. (Art 3. IHR (2005))
- International Health Regulations 1969. Third Annotated Edition, WHO, 1983
- International Health Regulations 2005. WHO. Geneva. 2006
- World Health Organization, Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response, Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response Frequently Asked Questions about International Health Regulations
- IHR 2005: From the Global to the Local
- Lawrence O. Gostin, International Infectious Disease Law, Revision of the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations, Journal of the American Medical Association, June 2, 2004, at 2623.