The purpose of the International Health Regulations (IHR) is to protect against the international spread of diseases by providing measures to prevent, prepare for, and respond to such events. Any public health response must be appropriate to the public health risk and avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.

The IHR has a broad scope to cover existing and new diseases and emergencies caused by non-infectious disease agents (eg, radiation or chemical spills) and pests/vectors. 

IHR and the border

The IHR is an important framework for many border controls. It takes a proactive approach, with defined procedures and responsibilities between the World Health Organization (WHO) and member states.

Countries must notify WHO of all events that could be a ‘public health emergency of international concern’. The IHR includes a decision-making instrument to support countries making such assessments. WHO has developed supporting guidance for countries on using the decision-making instrument – see the WHO decision-making tool guidance.

Capacity building

A key focus of the IHR is on capacity building. Each country needs to work to ensure it has the following:

  • core surveillance and response capacities for public health threats, and
  • core public health capacities at their international points of entry (airports, seaports, and any land border crossings). These core capacities are regarded as critical for preventing the international spread of disease and other public health risks. The requirements include having access to appropriate medical facilities, trained staff and the right equipment, and providing a safe environment for travellers. Countries also need capacities to respond to a potential public health emergency of international concern (such as a pandemic).


For more information about the core capacities required at New Zealand international airports and seaports, see this page -  requirements for international points of entry.

Requirements and evaluation

The IHR also includes a range of public health actions, measures and documentation requirements for international travellers, goods, cargo, and conveyances (ships and aircraft), and the ports and airports they use. This covers the provision of facilities, services, inspections, quarantine, treatment and a range of control activities which enable health authorities to protect against public health threats.

In November 2018, New Zealand completed its first Joint External Evaluation of the IHR. Find out more about this evaluation: