This is the 2nd meeting where countries worldwide came together to strengthen the mechanism in place to mitigate public health threats
The first round of discussions regarding amendments to the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR) concluded on February 24, 2023. During the discussions, the working group heard more than 300 suggested changes to the document.
This is the second meeting where countries from all over the world came together to strengthen the mechanism in place to mitigate public health threats.
“COVID-19 showed us that having a good, strong set of International Health Regulations is essential and showed where the current Regulations need to be improved,” said Dr Ashley Bloomfield, co-chair of the IHR working group.
Also read: India’s proposed amendments to IHR demand greater equity in access to healthcare, accountability of WHO
The ongoing pandemic has underscored the importance of countries working together collaboratively and supporting WHO in its vital work to make the world safer. The tone of the discussions and progress made during this week’s meeting clearly shows that countries understand their responsibility to ensure this process is successful, Bloomfield added.
Several of the 194 member states of WHO, who are also party to the IHR, had earlier proposed amendments to the regulations in line with their own socio-economic needs.
India, for instance, had sought for the IHR to be implemented in “accordance with (the) common but differentiated responsibilities of the States Parties, taking into consideration their social and economic development,” Down To Earth had earlier reported.
Such changes were requested by other developing countries as well. Chief among other demands was the need to ensure equity in access to healthcare and greater accountability from the WHO in how the IHR is implemented and compliance from member states.
Proposed during the first meeting of the Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) in November 2022, the document containing country-wise amendments was published by the WHO in December 2022.
Also read: WHO publishes zero-draft of pandemic treaty: Equity, IPR take centre stage
Armenia, Brazil, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Namibia, New Zealand, Russia and Switzerland had made suggestions, while Eswatini had done so on behalf of the WHO Africa region.
Intellectual property rights, licensing, transfer of technology and know-how for diversification of production were other issues raised by member states.
Fellow IHR working group co-chair Dr Abdullah M Assiri, deputy minister of health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, underlined the government’s commitment to strengthening the IHR.
“Countries are in the driving seat of this process as they need to implement the International Health Regulations, deliver on the obligations and make the key decisions needed to respond to public health threats,” he said.
During the pandemic, the world faced the urgent need for functioning international instruments and placed increasing importance on international organisations, such as WHO.
Updated Regulations will enable the world to better detect outbreaks early and prevent them from developing into public health emergencies of international concern. This is about strengthening our collective ability to do that and to better protect everybody, Dr Assiri added.
The next meeting on the IHR amendments is scheduled for April 17-20, while a round of discussions will begin today, lasting till the end of the week, on what the pandemic treaty should entail.
Both of these are urgent steps necessitated by the havoc wreaked by COVID-19, which has only highlighted the existing fissures in health systems across the world. For now, the way forward is for the amended IHR to work in resonance with the pandemic treaty.
The efforts to update the International Health Regulations and draft a pandemic accord share a number of common themes, including the importance of equity in access to health, collaboration and capacity building, Dr Bloomfield said.
“It is important that there is consistency and alignment across the two processes,” Bloomfield added.
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