A central and historic responsibility for the World Health Organization (WHO) has been the management of the global regime for the control of the international spread of disease. Under Articles 21(a) and 22, the Constitution of WHO confers upon the World Health Assembly the authority to adopt regulations “designed to prevent the international spread of disease” which, after adoption by the Health Assembly, enter into force for all WHO Member States that do not affirmatively opt out of them within a specified time period.
The International Health Regulations (“the IHR” or “Regulations”) were adopted by the Health Assembly in 19691, having been preceded by the International Sanitary Regulations adopted by the Fourth World Health Assembly in 1951. The 1969 Regulations, which initially covered six “quarantinable diseases” were amended in 19732 and 19813, primarily to reduce the number of covered diseases from six to three (yellow fever, plague and cholera) and to mark the global eradication.
In consideration of the growth in international travel and trade, and the emergence or re-emergence of international disease threats and other public health risks, the Forty-eighth World Health Assembly in 1995 called for a substantial revision of the Regulations adopted in 19694. In resolution WHA48.7, the Health Assembly requested the Director-General to take steps to prepare their revision, urging broad participation and cooperation in the process.
After extensive preliminary work on the revision by WHO’s Secretariat in close consultation with WHO Member States, international organizations and other relevant partners, and the momentum created by the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (the first global public health emergency of the 21st century)5, the Health Assembly established an Intergovernmental Working Group in 2003 open to all Member States to review and recommend a draft revision of the Regulations to the Health Assembly6. The IHR (2005) were adopted by the Fifty-eighth World Health Assembly on 23 May 20057. They entered into force on 15 June 2007.
The purpose and scope of the IHR (2005) are “to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in ways that are commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.” The IHR (2005) contain a range of innovations, including: (a) a scope not limited to any specific disease or manner of transmission, but covering “illness or medical condition, irrespective of origin or source, that presents or could present significant harm to humans”; (b) State Party obligations to develop certain minimum core public health capacities; (c) obligations on States Parties to notify WHO of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern according to defined criteria; (d) provisions authorizing WHO to take into consideration unofficial reports of public health events and to obtain verification from States Parties concerning such events; (e) procedures for the determination by the Director-General of a “public health emergency of international concern” and issuance of corresponding temporary recommendations, after taking into account the views of an Emergency Committee; (f) protection of the human rights of persons and travellers; and (g) the establishment of National IHR Focal Points and WHO IHR Contact Points for urgent communications between States Parties and WHO.
By not limiting the application of the IHR (2005) to specific diseases, it is intended that the Regulations will maintain their relevance and applicability for many years to come even in the face of the continued evolution of diseases and of the factors determining their emergence and transmission.
The provisions in the IHR (2005) also update and revise many of the technical and other regulatory functions, including certificates applicable to international travel and transport, and requirements for international ports, airports and ground crossings.
This second edition contains the text of the IHR (2005), the text of World Health Assembly resolution WHA58.3, the version of the Health Part of the Aircraft General Declaration that entered into force on 15 July 2007, appendices containing a list of States Parties and State Party reservations and other communications in connection with the IHR (2005).
1 See WHO Official Records, No. 176, 1969, resolution WHA22.46 and Annex I.
2 See WHO Official Records, No. 209, 1973, resolution WHA26.55.
3 See document WHA34/1981/REC/1 resolution WHA34.13; see also WHO Official Records, No. 217, 1974, resolution
WHA27.45, and resolution EB67.R13, Amendment of the International Health Regulations (1969).
4 See resolution WHA48.7.
5 See resolution WHA56.29.
6 See resolution WHA56.28.
7 See resolution WHA58.3.