Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

8. International Health Regulations and Epidemic Control

Johan Giesecke

Overview

This session looks at: extent to which early detection and elimination of epidemics is a GPGH existing international agreement aimed at such control - IHR problems with IHR and reasons for revision how these problems could be circumvented and IHR strengthened usefulness of the GPGH concept in this context

  • extent to which early detection and elimination of epidemics is a GPGH
  • existing international agreement aimed at such control - IHR
  • problems with IHR and reasons for revision
  • how these problems could be circumvented and IHR strengthened
  • usefulness of the GPGH concept in this context

The international spread of epidemics has been a constant companion of the movement of people, animals and goods across borders, and control measures have mostly consisted in trying to close these borders to infection. However, in addition to responding to a real health threat, presumed risk of contagion has often served to justify barriers to traffic as a means of trade restriction, thus compromising epidemic control through fear of disproportionate economic losses due to other countries' protective measures.

The International Health Regulations (IHR) are the product of 150 years of international attempts to balance these two concerns, seeking to merge efficient infection control with as little trade restriction as possible. The Regulations only fulfil this objective to some extent, and they are presently being revised. This revision will have to bring the two worlds of public health and trade together if it is to realize its potential of protecting the world's population from serious epidemics and pandemics without unnecessarily harming economies.

This session considers the role of the IHR in co-ordinating international action to control the spread of epidemics from one country to the next from the GPGH perspective. The ubiquitous freedom from epidemics is the final GPGH and that surveillance and control mechanisms to achieve this constitute an intermediate GPGH. Thus, the legislation and administrative structures to support this, including the IHR, may be seen as an enabling GPGH.

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