Role of the International Health Regulations and WHO during the Pandemics

V. Vidhula and P. Vishnu Manoharan
VIT School of Law, VIT University, India

Volume II – Issue I, 2020

A pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan, China was first reported to the WHO Country Office in China on 31 December 2019. This was the beginning of the greatest disease pandemic that this generation of human beings had ever seen. To say that this has impacted International relations in Himalayan Proportions is an understatement. This virus has soon spread to more than 200 countries with more than twenty lakh cases and close to one lakh eighty-thousand deaths. It has in a sense overwhelmed the medical and public health infrastructure of even countries like the United States and Italy which could boast to having the some of the best hospitals and healthcare facilities in the world. This horrible pandemic has kicked into light an aspect of international that is not as fancy or glamorous as Trade or counter terrorism conventions. The International Health regulations or IHR 2005 as it is commonly known is an agreement between more than 196 countries most of whom are members of the World Health Organization to work towards global health security. The world health organisation which sits atop response to such pandemics had issued the IHR in the year 2005 to deal with such pandemics and the actions and regulations to be issued. This was built upon the International health regulation of 1969 with were considered incomplete in a sense for the 21st century. WHO’s constitution lays out a detailed procedure that it has to follow in order to enact regulations-according to articles 21 and 22, WHO can enact or the World health assembly rather can enact regulations and enforce them without it being subject to ratification at the national level. The states however have an option to opt out subject to the wishes of their domestic government but this does not change the fact that the WHO has a position that is quite different than other world bodies. This shows enormous trust in technical rule-making fostered by experts, technocrats and diplomats. Consequently, it is all the more detrimental to its authority if the WHO is accused for acting, or failing to do so, due to reasons not strictly related to health. Pursuant to this power granted to it, WHO has enacted the International Health regulations, the International sanitary regulations and the Nomenclature regulations. The IHR was, one could say updated after the outbreak of the SARS virus in 2002-03 after the world came to terms with the fact that the current regime would not suffice if they are to encounter similar pandemics in the future. In short, one can say that, The global community has a new legal framework to better manage its collective defences to detect disease events and to respond to public health risks and emergencies that can have devastating impacts on human health and economies. The successful implementation of the IHR (2005) by the countries that have agreed to be bound by them (States Parties) and WHO, will contribute significantly to enhancing national and global public health security.


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