December 18th, 2006 09:40 EST
United States Officially Accepts New International Health Regulations
Washington -- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced December 13 that the United States has accepted formally a revised version of the International Health Regulations and will begin implementing the new international rules now rather than wait until they take effect in June 2007.
Under the revised regulations, countries that have accepted the International Health Regulations have much broader responsibility to take preventive measures against and to detect and respond to public health emergencies of international concern. (See related article.)
The regulations now in effect, first adopted by World Health Organization (WHO) member states in 1969, apply to only three diseases -- cholera, yellow fever and plague.
But in recent decades, increases in international travel and trade and developments in communication technology have led to new challenges in controlling infectious diseases. (See related article.)
“As we have seen recently with SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] and H5N1 avian influenza, diseases respect no boundaries. In today’s world, a threat anywhere means danger everywhere,” Leavitt said during a weeklong visit to the People’s Republic of China.
The International Health Regulations are an international legal instrument governing the roles of WHO and its member countries in identifying, responding to and sharing information about public health emergencies of international concern. The updated rules are designed to prevent and protect against the international spread of diseases and minimize interference with world travel and trade, and many of the new provisions are based on experiences gained and lessons learned by the global community over the past 30 years.
“The improved global cooperation that will come from implementing these new International Health Regulations represents a major step forward for global public health,” Leavitt added.
The regulations give WHO clearer authority to recommend to its member states measures that will help contain the international spread of disease, including public health actions to be taken at ports, airports and land borders and on means of transport that involve international travel.
The revised regulations list four diseases – smallpox, polio, SARS and new strains of human influenza – whose occurrences member states must report immediately to the WHO. The regulations also provide a formula to help countries determine whether other incidents – including those of a biological, chemical or radiological nature – constitute public health events of international concern.
Specific procedures and timelines are included for announcing and responding to potential international public health events.
Countries that intend to accept the regulations may submit reservations and understandings regarding their implementation. The United States accepted the regulations with the reservation that it will implement the rules in line with U.S. principles of federalism.
The U.S. government also submitted three understandings, setting forth its views that:
• Incidents that involve the natural, accidental or deliberate release of chemical, biological or radiological materials are notifiable under the regulations;
• Countries that accept the regulations are obligated to report potential public health emergencies that occur outside their borders to the extent possible; and
• The regulations create no separate private right to legal action against the federal government.
After several years of work by WHO and its member states, the annual World Health Assembly approved the revised regulations in May 2005 and agreed that the revised regulations will come into force in June 2007.
The full text of the press release is available at the Health and Human Services Web site.
More information about the revised International Health Regulations is available at the WHO Web site.
For more information about U.S. policies, see Health.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)