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Health Minister welcomes new Int'l Regulations

24 May 2005

Health Minister welcomes new International Health Regulations

New International Health Regulations adopted by the World Health Organisation mark a significant step forward in strengthening the world's collective defences against any potential global health threat, says Health Minister Annette King.

The regulations will come into force for the 192 WHO member countries in 2007. They form the main international legal framework for preventing and controlling the spread of disease, and addressing the threat of other potential sources of harm such as chemical or radiological hazards.

The existing regulations date back to 1969. The new regulations were finalised at negotiations in Geneva last week, and were adopted by the World Health Assembly on Monday (23 May).

"Major changes in travel and trade across borders, as well as developments in communication technology, have taken place in the past 35 years," said Mrs King. "This has given rise to new health challenges that make the existing regulations well out of date."

The new regulations have been under development since 1995. Proposals were further revised as a result of experience gained during the 2003 SARS outbreak and more recent avian flu alerts.

Ms King said such events reinforced the need for coordinated international action and cooperation.

"To be effective, public health action needs to be applied widely, consistently and in a timely manner. The revised International Health Regulations explicitly provide for these objectives," she said.

"New Zealand wholeheartedly supports the revised regulations and has been involved in their development. It's a huge step in the right direction."

The regulations require all member countries to have procedures in place to detect, assess and respond to events that have public health significance at a "day to day" control level, said Ms King. This would see a strengthening in routine procedures to deal with events such as localised communicable disease outbreaks.

Where events are detected that could have international significance, member countries would be required to notify the WHO. The WHO would then coordinate an international response, she said.

The previous regulations dealt with specific health hazards such as cholera and yellow fever. The new framework takes an all-risks approach.

"By following the procedures set out in the revised International Health Regulations, New Zealand will also gain protection against excessive international reactions to localised events that have low risk of international spread. They will also help avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic," she said.

BACKGROUND

The World Health Assembly is the United Nations health agency's policy-making body.

The World Health Assembly adopted (on 23 May) a new set of regulations governing responses from Governments and international bodies.
The new regulations are called the International Health Regulations 2005 and they replace regulations last agreed in 1969 designed to monitor and control six serious infectious diseases - cholera, plague, yellow fever, and to a lesser extent, smallpox, relapsing fever and typhus.

The new regulations, negotiated over several years, include such diseases as polio and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and they require Governments to notify WHO of their occurrence.

The regulations are scheduled to come into effect in two years (2007) for the 192 members of the World Health Assembly, including New Zealand.
The regulations also now include a decision instrument or algorithm for countries to decide whether any other event constitutes a public health event of international concern.

Governments must decide if an outbreak or other event is serious, unusual, or unexpected, measure the risk of international spread and determine whether to impose international travel or trade restrictions.

Countries also have to assess their own capacity to identify, verify and control public health events and upgrade those capacities within a fixed timeframe.

The regulations provide the World Health Organisation with new, clearly defined roles and responsibilities to help countries to respond to all events of public health significance.

ENDS

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