The International Health Regulations (IHR) envision a multi-sectoral approach with all relevant sectors of Member national authorities contributing to the detection, assessment and response to potential public health events of international concern. A report on IHR implementation presented to the Sixty-Fifth World Health Assembly indicated a need to “attract the attention of other sectors for the general implementation of the Regulations”, as the “awareness of the International Health Regulations (2005) across all sectors remains insufficient”. In the European Region, the report said that multi-sectoral coordination and coordination between points of entry and the national level needed to be improved. As a result, World Health Assembly resolution WHA65.23 called on States Parties to strengthen multi-sectoral coordination and collaboration, and on the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote engagement with relevant international organizations and stakeholders.

Many sectors can contribute to the effective implementation of the IHR.

  • The Agriculture and Veterinary Sector addresses animal health, the human–animal interface and food safety, all of which affect public health. WHO has set up a project with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to address such issues
  • In the Education Sector, data sharing with schools (like absenteeism data, access to school registers) can aid in tracking disease indicators in the population.
  • The National Security Institutions will be supporting the responses to national threats and outbreak at both the national and community level especially through security and logistical support

The 196 states globally which are party to the International Health Regulations (IHR), including Saint Lucia, have been implementing these global regulations to enhance national, regional and global public health security since entry into force on June 2007 through a phased approach.
One of the key milestones for countries includes the assessment of their surveillance and response capacities and the development and implementation of national plans of action to ensure that these core capacities are functioning. The States Parties are obligated to submit annual reports to World Health Assembly to monitor the progress of implementing the provisions under the IHR.

IHR Questions and their Answers
What is the International Health Regulations (IHR)?
The International Health Regulations (2005) represent an agreement among 196 countries including all World Health Organization (WHO) Member States. It is binding among all these countries, creating international obligations. Through the IHR, countries have agreed to build their capacities to detect, assess and report public health events with potential to spread beyond a country's border. IHR also includes specific measures for seaports and airports. These measures are to limit the spread of health risks to the national population and neighbouring countries, and to prevent unwarranted travel and trade restrictions so that traffic and trade disruption are kept to a minimum. 

Why is the IHR necessary?
Health security is a global issue, especially in an age of intensified international travel and trade. This dynamic movement of people and products make the risk of disease spread more heightened. Nations have a responsibility to itself and the global community from threats like infectious diseases, chemical and radiological events.

What is the Role of the World Health Organization (WHO)?
WHO has assumed the role of lead agency and coordinator of the International Health Regulations. The WHO provides routine updates to countries of public health risks. It works with health authorities to support countries in building their capacity to undertake their core IHR functions i.e. to detect, report and respond to public health events. 

What are Points of Entry?
The IHR (2005) define a point of entry as "a passage for international entry or exit of travellers, baggage, cargo, containers, conveyances, goods and postal parcels, as well as agencies and areas providing services to them on entry or exit"

There are three types of points of entry:

  • international airports
  • seaports 
  • ground border crossings (not applicable to the Saint Lucia context)

Signatories to the IHR (2005) must satisfy the core public health capacities requirements at designated points of entry i.e. airports, ports and ground crossings in both routine circumstances as well as for responding to events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern. Core capacities required at points of entry are:

Why do the International Health Regulations Matter to Me?    
The Regulations will support countries in protecting the health of their citizens. This will be done by constant monitoring of disease trends and new outbreaks happening internationally and putting in measures to reduce this threat to our country. A health threat in one part of the world is potentially a threat to us. Through the IHR national health authorities can become more proactive in strengthening national health security.

The IHR protects persons from both foreseeable and unforeseeable health threats. This is in large measure because all 196 countries have an obligation to report all real and potential public health emergencies of international concern.

What is meant by a Public Health Emergency of International Concern?
This refers to an unusual public health event which (1) to constitute a threat to other states through the international; and (2) require a coordinated international response to reduce/eliminate the threat. This is done through an established process of notification through the WHO.  The criteria for defining this threat is (a) seriousness of the public health impact of the event; (b) unusual or unexpected nature of the event; (c) potential for the event to spread internationally; and/or (d) the risk that restrictions to travel or trade may result because of the event.