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Public Health (28-09-2006)

International Health Regulations – Commission calls for full implementation, particularly on flu aspects

On 26 September the European Commission adopted a Communication on the revised International Health Regulations 2005 (the IHR). Due to enter into force in June 2007, the IHR is an important legal tool which aims to prevent and control the international spread of disease, while avoiding unnecessary interference with transport, border issues and trade.
 
The Commission’s Communication is intended to promote a proactive approach to implementation of the IHR, particularly in light of the pandemic flu threat. By working together with EU Member States to implement the IHR, the Commission aims to better protect EU citizens from international public health emergencies.
 
The Communication discusses early application of flu-related aspects, as proposed by the World Health Assembly; clarifies the EU role in IHR implementation; and recalls the limits the IHR places on national policy responses, particularly at borders. It also aims to stimulate Member States to develop and share their own plans for IHR implementation.
 
EU role in IHR implementation
The EU itself is not a party to the IHR, but the Commission believes the EU and its MemberStates can and should work together to optimise IHR implementation and avoid duplication of effort. In particular, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the EU Early Warning and Response System for public health threats (EWRS), can help to implement the IHR in a stronger, more coherent way. The Communication proposes a number of working practices in this respect.
 
IHR limits on unilateral policy responses, including border measures
The IHR makes clear that “such measures shall not be more restrictive of international traffic and not more invasive or intrusive to persons than reasonably available alternatives that would achieve the appropriate level of health protection”. The Communication recalls the fact that in the event of a public health emergency, international border measures will require coordination at EU level.
 
Early application of flu-related aspects
In May this year, the World Health Assembly called for countries to comply as soon as possible with the IHR provisions considered relevant to the risk posed by avian and potential human pandemic influenza. The Communication identifies the specific aspects identified for early application and describes the EU context, in order to promote a common approach.
 
About the International Health Regulations
In 1951 the member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the first International Sanitary Regulations, which were renamed the International Health Regulations in 1969. The IHR were revised in 2005, and EU Member States and the Commission played an active part in negotiations on that revision. The new IHR introduces a broad concept of public health emergencies of international concern, to cover existing, new and re-emerging diseases, including emergencies caused by non-infectious disease agents.
 
The revised IHR (2005) is due to enter into force on 15 June 2007, with gradual implementation until 2016 at the latest. However in May 2006 the World Health Assembly called upon States Parties to comply immediately, on a voluntary basis, with IHR provisions considered relevant to the risk posed by avian and potential human pandemic influenza.
 
For more information about the IHR:  http://www.who.int/csr/ihr/en/. The Commission Communication is available here: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_international/keydo_international_en.htm