IHR Negotiations to Continue Until May 2024
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, WGIHR co-chair

Negotiations at the World Health Organisation (WHO) about how to amend the International Health Regulations (IHR) to make them fit to tackle the next pandemic will be extended until as far as May 2024.

This was resolved at the Working Group on the IHR amendments, which ended on Friday following a week-long meeting with a long list of undecided clauses and agenda items. 

Co-chair Dr Ashley Bloomfield of New Zealand praised the “very strong spirit of cooperation”, “focus on delivering on our mandate” and “very effective communication” at the closing plenary last Friday.

Meanwhile, co-chair Dr Abdullah Assiri of Saudi Arabia said that the WGIHR is “confident that we will be able to deliver on our mandate by the [May] 77th World Health Assembly. The will is there”.

However, a multitude of clauses and issues remain unresolved after the fifth negotiating meeting to amend the only legally binding global health laws, which set out countries’ obligations to disease outbreaks with risk of international spread. 

Bloomfield stressed that the WGIHR have a shared and clear understanding of its twofold mandate, which he explained as: “First, to come up with a set of targeted amendments, but secondly, and these are interlinked, to reorient the International Health Regulations towards equity”.

“We have made progress this week on that topic, definitely not as much as we intended to, but we have intersessional plans to keep progress going on both parts of our mandate – both the technical amendments but also the reorientation towards equity, and that remains a very strong focus for our work here and will continue,” added Bloomfield.

Intersessional meetings

The working group has resorted to intersessional meetings on sticky issues between the formal negotiations to enable parties to get a better understanding of each other’s positions.

The intersessional meetings decided on before the next formal negotiations in early December include sessions on financing for public health emergencies, IHR implementation, and the process of declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

This will include the “pandemic continuum, including definitions, criteria and the process for determining each”, according to the WHO in a media release.

However, the WHO said that the working group discussed eight proposed amendments including the Definitions, Purpose and Scope, Principles and Responsible Authorities (Article 4), the composition of the Emergency Committee (Articles 48 and 49) and the Decision Instrument for The Assessment and Notification of Events (Annex 2).

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