Update on recent developments in the International Health Regulations revision process
Geneva, 14 December 2004
Following World Health Assembly resolution WHA56.28, the first session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Revision of the International Health Regulations (IGWG) met in Geneva from 1-12 November 2004. This meeting, open to all WHO Member States and regional economic integration organizations with IGOs and NGOs having observer status, aimed at reviewing and recommending a draft revision of the International Health Regulations for consideration by the World Health Assembly in May 2005.
In the last year, 12 regional and subregional groups met to review the revised Regulations. With the experience of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and more recently avian influenza, Member States and WHO have learned a great deal about how to work together to prevent and contain outbreaks. It is expected that the revised Regulations will provide Member States with a common reference point to prevent and to coordinate international responses to global health threats in the future.
Over 500 delegates representing more than 150 Member States were present. Following the adoption of a revised agenda, the working group elected the Bureau, which consisted of the Chair (Ireland) and Vice-Chairs (Australia, Canada, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Romania and South Africa) representing each of the six WHO regions to oversee the conduct of business. The work was divided into three subgroups which met consecutively over the course of the two weeks. The allocation of articles for the subgroups was broadly correlated to the areas of the text pertaining to a) surveillance for and response to public health emergencies; b) health measures at points of entry and c) human rights, institutional and legal issues. All but two articles received two readings by the IGWG.
The Intergovernmental meeting was an excellent opportunity for Member States to exchange national and regional perspectives and move towards a consensus on key concerns. The first week was spent in soliciting comments and technical amendments from delegates to identify difficult areas, including the scope of the regulations, the need to balance the rights of Member States with collective responsibilities to protect global health, operational procedures and other technical aspects of the Regulations. During the second week, Member States indicated their support for various articles and amendments and began to arrive at a consensus on the negotiated text.
Two weeks were not sufficient to complete the work, so a further session of this working group is scheduled to be convened in Geneva from 21 – 25 February 2005.
Delegations expressed their support for the underlying principles guiding the revision proposals and for the process adopted to finalize the revision. Much progress was made and a major achievement from this session was the compiling by the Subgroup Co-chairs of a new text based on proposals from Member States.