WHO member countries approve steps to bolster health regulations to better brace for pandemics

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Saturday that member countries have approved new measures to enhance global preparedness and response to pandemics like COVID-19 and mpox. They have also set a new deadline for reaching a consensus on a broader treaty.

The amendments to the International Health Regulations, last revised in 2005, were approved unanimously. These amendments include defining the term “pandemic emergency” and facilitating access to financing and medical products for developing countries, according to the WHO.

The decision was made at the conclusion of the six-day World Health Assembly, during which plans to adopt a more comprehensive pandemic “treaty” were put on hold due to disagreements between developing and wealthier nations. These disagreements primarily revolved around the equitable sharing of technology and the pathogens that cause outbreaks.

However, all countries have committed to concluding negotiations on the pandemic accord by the end of the year, at the latest, as stated by the WHO.
“The success of the amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) demonstrates that even in a world that is divided and filled with conflicts, countries can still come together to find common cause and common ground,” stated Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, praised this achievement as a “big win for health security” and shared on X that it will simplify negotiations for the pandemic agreement.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), countries have defined a pandemic emergency as a communicable disease that has a widespread geographical spread or a high risk of such spread, and which exceeds or has the potential to exceed the capacity of national health systems to respond.

The WHO also defines a pandemic emergency as an outbreak that has or could cause significant economic or social disruption and requires immediate international action.
According to Steven Solomon, a legal officer at WHO, the revision of the health regulations will not be implemented immediately. Instead, it will be put into effect one year after Tedros officially informs countries about the decision.

Yuanqiong Hu, a senior legal and policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, commented on the changes adopted on Saturday. Hu stated that these revisions include crucial provisions that tackle the issue of fairness in accessing health products during global health emergencies.