Alert, response, and capacity building under the International Health Regulations (IHR)

About WHO Department of Global Capacities Alert and Response (GCR)

International Health Regulations implementation

Strengthening public health security in travel and transport: Public health preparedness and response at ports, airports and ground crossings

While international transport, travel and trade contribute to economic development and welfare of populations, they may also pose public health risks. Today’s high traffic at airports, ports and ground crossings – points of entry, can play an important role in the spread of diseases internationally through persons, conveyances (ships, airplanes, road vehicles, trains), baggage, cargo, containers, goods and postal parcels.

Vast numbers of persons and goods move from country to country through points of entry. If countries are unprepared and appropriate measures are not in place to control potential risks, the impact to public health would be adverse. The International Health Regulations(IHR) provide a public health framework in the form of obligations and recommendations that enable countries to better prevent, prepare for and respond to public health events and emergencies.

States Parties are requested to maintain effective standing public health measures and response capacity at designated airports, ports and ground crossings, aiming to:

  • protect the health of travellers (passengers and crew) and populations;
  • keep ports, airports and ground crossings running and ships sailing, aircraft flying and ground transportation travelling in a sanitary condition and free of sources of infection and contamination, as far as practicable;
  • contain risks at source, respond to emergencies and implement public health recommendations, limiting unnecessary health-based restrictions on international traffic and trade.

Much has been achieved towards IHR implementation at points of entry. By 30 September 2012, over 50% of States Parties had identified and provided to WHO a list of national ports authorized to issue the new Ship Sanitation Certificates and had designated ports, airports and ground crossings charged to develop the capacities required by the IHR. Nevertheless, a significant number of States Parties had also requested to WHO a two year extension until 2014 for fulfilling IHR core capacity requirements.