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Annan Welcomes New Regulations for Epidemics

Annan Welcomes World Health Assembly's New Regulations for Handling Epidemics

New York, May 23 2005 3:00PM

Spurred on by outbreaks of communicable diseases over the past 30 years, the United Nations health agency's policy-making body today adopted a new set of regulations governing responses from Governments and international bodies and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed them as part of the steps he calls for in his reform report.

"The Secretary-General welcomes the decision of the World Health Assembly to adopt the International Health Regulations 2005, a measure that is among the recommendations in the Secretary-General's recent report, 'In Larger Freedom,'" a UN spokesman said.

"This decision marks a watershed for global public health and will help the World Health Organization (WHO) to further advance its mandate – the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health – amid the challenges of the new millennium."

The International Health Regulations agreed on in 1969 were designed to monitor and control six serious infectious diseases – cholera, plague, yellow fever, smallpox, relapsing fever and typhus. The new regulations, negotiated over several years, also include such diseases as polio and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and they bind Governments to notify WHO of their occurrence, the agency said.

The regulations, scheduled to come into effect in two years for the 192 members of the World Health Assembly, also include a matrix for countries to decide whether any other incidence constitutes a public health event of international concern. Governments must decide if an outbreak 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 capacities to identify, verify and control public health events and upgrade those capacities within a fixed timeframe.

"The new regulations bring disease control into the twenty-first century," said Dr. Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO Assistant Director-General in charge of communicable diseases. "With this framework, we can now support the work of countries in controlling outbreaks more effectively. The regulations provide WHO with new, clearly defined roles and responsibilities as we help countries to respond to disease outbreaks."

The capacities of WHO offices around the world will be strengthened and they, together with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), a technical collaboration network of Governments and medical and humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGO), will continue to provide operational support to countries in identifying and responding to disease outbreaks.


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