Key step forward on International Health Rules
To Support Rapid Response to Public Health Threats
Geneva, 28 May 2003 - The global health community has taken a key step towards ensuring rapid action against future outbreaks of infectious diseases and other threats to international public health. A resolution adopted today confirms and underlines the World Health Organization’s (WHO) authority to verify disease outbreaks from all available official and unofficial sources, and, when necessary to determine the severity of an outbreak through on-the-spot investigations to ensure it is appropriately controlled.
The resolution is a major step in the ongoing revision of the International Health Regulations, which were first published in 1969. The Regulations, which currently limit mandatory reporting to just a few diseases, reflect the world at the time they were written and have not kept pace with the way WHO or the rest of the world now works.
The process of revising these regulations has been placed on a strong footing by the Assembly, which has also urged all Member States to establish an improved system to ensure rapid two-way communication between WHO and the national authorities.
"This is an extremely significant step for international public health," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO. "SARS has shown us the size of the challenges we face. These new measures will help us respond even more effectively to the next public health threat."
In a separate move, the Assembly also approved a resolution on SARS which acknowledged the "intensive regional and global collaboration, effective strategies and additional resources" which have been required to bring SARS under control.
Member States noted that "national and international experiences with SARS contribute lessons that can improve preparedness for responding to, and mitigating the public health, economic, and social consequences of the next emerging infectious disease, the next influenza pandemic, and the possible use of a biological agent to cause harm."
The Member States also called on WHO "to take into account evidence, experiences, knowledge and lessons acquired during the SARS response when revising the International Health Regulations."