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Historic Agreement Reached on Amendments to International Health Regulations

In a landmark development for global public health, State Parties have agreed in principle on a comprehensive package of amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005). These amendments, based on over 300 proposals from countries following the COVID-19 pandemic, aim to enhance countries' abilities to prepare for, detect, and respond to Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEICs). The agreed amendments will be presented at the World Health Assembly (WHA) from May 27 to June 1, 2024. Negotiators are set to meet again next week to resolve remaining issues.

First adopted in 1969 and last revised in 2005, the IHR were designed to coordinate global efforts to manage public health events while minimizing disruptions to travel and trade. The regulations have 196 State Parties, including all 194 WHO Member States, Liechtenstein, and the Holy See. The amendments process has been led by the Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) (WGIHR), which concluded its resumed eighth meeting today.

Parallel to this process, an intergovernmental negotiation is underway to develop an international agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. This draft pandemic agreement, also led by Member States, will be discussed at the World Health Assembly.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the agreement as historic, noting the IHR's crucial role in managing public health emergencies over the past two decades. "Our collective experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted areas for improvement in the IHR. Countries have come together to enhance international mechanisms to protect all people globally from epidemics and pandemics, with a commitment to equity and solidarity. I thank all Member States for their unwavering dedication," he said.

Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, WGIHR Co-Chair from New Zealand, expressed satisfaction with the consensus achieved on most proposed amendments. "This process has been long but rewarding, reflecting the global priority on effective preparation and response to epidemic and pandemic threats," he stated.

Dr. Abdullah Assiri, WGIHR Co-Chair from Saudi Arabia, emphasized the importance of strengthening collective defenses against public health risks while respecting national sovereignty and equity. "Today, we have agreed on robust amendments that will enhance international cooperation and implementation," he said.

The amended IHRs and the potential new pandemic agreement are designed to complement each other. The IHRs focus on enhancing countries' capacities to detect and respond to international public health events, while the draft pandemic accord aims to coordinate international responses to pandemics, ensuring equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

As these historic amendments move forward, the global health community anticipates stronger and more cohesive international public health protections for future generations. 

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