Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Strategies for implementing the new International Health Regulations in federal countries

Kumanan Wilson, Christopher McDougall, David P Fidler, Harvey Lazar

The International Health Regulations (IHR), the principal legal instrument guiding the international management of public health emergencies, have recently undergone an extensive revision process. The revised regulations, referred to as the IHR (2005), were unanimously approved in May 2005 by all Member States of the World Health Assembly (WHA) and came into effect on 15 June 2007. The IHR (2005) reflect a modernization of the international community’s approach to public health and an acknowledgement of the importance of establishing an effective international strategy to manage emergencies that threaten global health security.

The success of the IHR as a new approach to combating such threats will ultimately be determined by the ability of countries to live up to the obligations they assumed in approving the new international strategy. However, doing so may be particularly challenging for decentralized countries, specifically those with federal systems of government. Although the IHR (2005) are the product of an agreement among national governments, they cover a wide range of matters, some of which may not fall fully under the constitutional jurisdiction of the national government within many federations. This tension between the separation of powers within federal systems of government and the requirements of an evolving global public health governance regime may undermine national efforts towards compliance and could ultimately jeopardize the regime’s success.

We hosted a workshop to examine how federal countries could address some of the challenges they may face in implementing the IHR (2005). We present here a series of recommendations, synthesized from the workshop proceedings, on strategies that these countries might pursue to improve their ability to comply with the revised IHR.

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