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Public Health

Vetted resources and information on current public health events.

International Health Regulations (IHR)

The International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005 are an instrument of international law that is legally-binding on 196 countries, including the 194 WHO Member States, to build the capability to detect and report potential public health emergencies worldwide. IHR require that all countries have the ability to detect, assess, report, and respond to public health events.

The IHR  grew out of the response to deadly epidemics that once overran Europe. They create rights and obligations for countries, including the requirement to report public health events. The Regulations also outline the criteria to determine whether or not a particular event constitutes a  “public health emergency of international concern”. The World Health Assembly first adopted IHR in 1969 to cover six diseases. Over the years, the IHR were revised multiple times.

Countries reference IHR (2005) to determine how to prevent and control global health threats while keeping international travel and trade as open as possible. IHR (2005) also includes specific measures countries can take at ports, airports and ground crossings to limit the spread of health risks to neighboring countries, and to prevent unwarranted travel and trade restrictions.

One of the most important aspects of IHR (2005) is the requirement that countries detect and report events that may constitute a potential public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

Current/Ongoing IHR Emergency Committees
Previous IHR Emergency Committees

Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)

PHEIC is a formal designation by the World Health Organization (WHO) of "an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response" that is declared in response to a "serious, sudden, unusual, or unexpected", which "carries implications for public health beyond the affected state's national border" and "may require immediate international action."

PHEIC Declaration Process
Under IHR (2005), a PHEIC is declared by the World Health Organization if the situation meets 2 of 4 criteria:
  • Is the public health impact of the event serious?
  • Is the event unusual or unexpected?
  • Is there a significant risk of international spread?
  • Is there a significant risk of international travel or trade restrictions?

Once a WHO member country identifies an event of concern, the country must assess the public health risks of the event within 48 hours. If the event is determined to be notifiable under the IHR, the country must report the information to WHO within 24 hours. Some diseases always require reporting under the IHR, no matter when or where they occur, while others become notifiable when they represent an unusual risk or situation.

Always Notifiable Events:
  • Smallpox
  • Poliomyelitis due to wild-type poliovirus
  • Human influenza caused by a new subtype
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
Potentially Notifiable Events:
  • May include cholera, pneumonic plague, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fever, and West Nile fever, as well as any others that meet the criteria laid out by the IHR.
  • Other biological, radiological, or chemical events that meet IHR criteria

When a PHEIC is declared, WHO helps coordinate an immediate response with the affected country and with other countries around the world.

List of all Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEIC)
Since 2009 there are been seven (7) PHEIC declarations: