The International Health Regulations (2005) (hereinafter referred to as IHR) were formally adopted at the 58th World Health Assembly in 2005. The regulations are a binding international legal agreement involving 196 countries across the globe, including all the Member States of the World Health Organisation.
Their aim is to help the international community prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders and threaten people worldwide.
The purpose and scope of the Regulations is to “prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in ways commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade ”. The regulations came into force in June 2007.
A Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), such as the declaration on 30 January 2020 in relation to Covid-19, is declared under the provisions of IHR.
Article 22 of the Regulations specifically provide for the designation of a “competent authority” (in relation to points of entry, i.e. airports and ports) by Member States for the purposes of the Regulations.
The HSE has a Port Health Group which consists of representatives from Public Health, Environmental Health, the National Ambulance Service and the HSE’s Office of Emergency Management. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre is Ireland’s designated Competent Body for liaison with ECDC and is Ireland’s national WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) focal point for communicable diseases.
There has been ongoing engagement between the HSE (HPSC and Port Health); the Department of Health; the Department of Transport; and the Department of Transport’s various agencies in relation to the designation of a competent authority or authorities for Ireland, in accordance with IHR.
Following further engagement between the Department (Health Protection Unit in the CMO’s Office and HSE (HPSC and Port Health), work was conducted to progress this issue during the course of 2019, including the commencement of a review of the relevant legislation by the Department and the submission of a proposal document by the HSE. It was intended that this issue would be further pursued in the context of a more in-depth review of Public Health Legislation in 2020, but this was paused following the onset of the pandemic.
It should be noted that the 2008 and 2009 Infectious Diseases Regulations took account of the provisions of the International Health Regulations when they were drafted, revoking and replacing preceding Regulations relating to infectious diseases on both shipping and aircraft. Consistent with other Regulations made in accordance with the provisions of the Health Act 1947, key responsibilities in these areas were allocated to medical officers of health and health officers (and some of these would mirror the requirements of IHR).
The European Commission has recently issued its new legislative framework for the health sector, which includes provision for a Regulation on cross-border threats to health (which will repeal Decision No 1082/2013/EU). This includes provision for both EU wide and Member State pandemic planning, including greater compliance with IHR. Provision is also made for audits by the ECDC with a view to strengthening IHR and EU emergency structures.