International Health Regulations (IHR)

IHR News

The WHO quarterly bulletin on IHR implementation

8 April 2011, No. 14

Editorial - Japan earthquake and nuclear concerns

The recent earthquake and nuclear accidents in Japan were a disturbing wake-up call to the international community. While the events in Japan remained local, they are a tragic reminder of how closely linked we are, from one country to another, from region to region, and how much work we must do to be prepared not only to deal with a potential future pandemic and other epidemic-prone diseases, but also for nuclear and chemical accidents, and environmental disasters. The devastating events in Japan also remind us of the need for global coordination, support and solidarity.

As part of the response efforts in Japan, WHO HQ is working in close collaboration with the Japanese authorities, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and WHO West Pacific Regional Office and its global network of experts, at the highest level of the organizations, to gather updated information and best risk assessment results. The work of WHO is supported by a global network comprising more than 40 specialized institutions in radiation emergency medicine.

There are no health risks thus far to people living in other countries from radioactive material released into the atmosphere from the Japanese nuclear power plants. Radiation levels measured to date in other countries are far below the level of background radiation that most people are exposed to in normal, every day circumstances. The situation is monitored on a daily basis and the Japanese authorities, WHO and other partners involved in the response, continue to work closely together.

Throughout this emergency, we have been asked, "Is IHR at work? Has IHR been set in motion?". The answer is yes. Although the events in Japan remain local, IHR has been involved from the start, closely monitoring developments to be ready to take timely and appropriate action as needed working with its partners in the travel and transport sector to ensure that no inappropriate travel restrictions were imposed and facilitating a harmonized approach at points of entry.

The IHR provide not only the legal framework but also a unique opportunity for the international community to work closely together to be better prepared to respond collectively to potential public health events that threaten our global health security. For WHO, they are an opportunity to strengthen and improve activities we have been doing in different departments and in the regions for many years. There is much work to be done, and at HQ we are committed to supporting the regional offices to better help countries strengthen their core capacities for preparedness and response to public health events.

Dr Isabelle Nuttall
International Health Regulations Coordination Department