Aotearoa New Zealand is bound without reservation to the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005, which replaced the earlier IHR 1969. These Regulations are binding on New Zealand under our World Health Organization (WHO) membership.
The revised International Health Regulations were adopted on 23 May 2005 by the World Health Assembly. These regulations entered into force in June 2007. In December 2006, the New Zealand Government agreed that New Zealand would fully implement them.
The expanded 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, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade’.
The renewed mandate given to Member States and WHO under the IHR 2005 has increased their roles and responsibilities. States that are party to the IHR 2005 must strengthen, develop and maintain core surveillance and response capacities to detect, assess, notify and report public health events to WHO and respond to public health risks and emergencies. WHO will provide support and assist in evaluating and implementing capacity building in surveillance and response.
At a day-to-day level, key components of the IHR have been incorporated into New Zealand’s domestic legislation and underpin the routine pest control measures associated with ports, airports, ships and aircraft and the routine border health provisions governing quarantinable diseases.
The IHR also require disease reporting to WHO to help the world body with its global surveillance and advisory role.
The former IHR 1969 were narrowly focused on managing and reporting three particular diseases (cholera, yellow fever and plague). In recent years there have been a number of disease outbreaks of international significance, including most notably several avian influenza incidents and, of course, SARS in 2003. WHO played an important role in monitoring and coordinating responses to these outbreaks, and the experience gained was used directly to inform further work on the revision process.
The revised IHR was adopted at the World Health Assembly in May 2005 and entered into force on 15 June 2007.
In addition to retaining many of the tried and true features (such as pratique, a focus on disease vectors and diseases, and the expectations around sanitary measures for ships, aircraft, ports and airports), the IHR 2005 also includes some innovative new provisions.
- a deliberate focus on a broader range of threats to public health, including unusual events or those of unknown origin, rather than just focusing on a short list of specified diseases
- explicit expectations that countries will develop and maintain the capacities for local and national surveillance and to mount timely and coordinated responses to threats to public health
- a requirement to rapidly assess and then notify WHO of events which might constitute a potential public health emergency of international concern, along with a flow-chart (decision instrument) to assist countries in making such assessments
- a mechanism for confidential consultations between member states and WHO in circumstances where a formal notification is not entirely justified or may be a marginal call
- recognition that WHO may consider information from unofficial and official sources in forming its views about an emerging issue and initiate investigations in conjunction with member states (rather than waiting to be formally invited).
For context, this is the historical implementation of the IHR.