Global Alert and Response (GAR)

How will the global response to the pandemic H1N1 be reviewed?

12 April 2010

The assessment of the global response to the pandemic H1N1 will be conducted by the International Health Regulations Review Committee, a committee of experts with a broad mix of scientific expertise and practical experience in public health. The members are some of the leading experts in the world in their respective fields.

The International Health Regulations (IHR) is an international legal agreement that is binding on 194 States Parties across the globe, including all of the Member States of WHO. The basic purpose of the IHR 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.

In January 2010, the WHO Executive Board requested a proposal from the Director-General on how to assess the international response to the pandemic influenza, and then approved her suggestion to convene the IHR Review Committee to review both the pandemic response and the functioning of the IHR.

The pandemic H1N1 is the first public health emergency of international concern to occur since the revised IHR came into force. The IHR played a central role in the global response to the pandemic and so review of the IHR and review of the global handling of the pandemic influenza are closely related.

The IHR facilitate coordinated international action by requiring countries to report certain disease outbreaks and public health events to WHO so that global reporting of important public health events is timely and open.

The IHR were first implemented (i.e., "entered into force") worldwide in 2007 and the Health Assembly determined that a first review of its functioning is to take place by the 63rd World Health Assembly in May 2010.

Objectives

The review has three key objectives:

  • Assess the functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005);
  • Assess the ongoing global response to the pandemic H1N1 (including the role of WHO); and
  • Identify lessons learned important for strengthening preparedness and response for future pandemics and public health emergencies.
The committee

The IHR Review Committee is made up of approximately 29 members who have been selected from the roster of experts under the IHR structure or other WHO expert committees. The committee members represent a broad mix of expertise, practical experience and backgrounds, and includes experts from developed and developing countries.

The members are some of the leading experts in the world in their respective fields. They are not WHO staff, nor do they receive funding from WHO for their contributions to the review process. Names of the committee members were made public prior to the first meeting:

At the first meeting, Professor Harvey V. Fineberg was elected as chair; Professor Babatunde Osotimehin was elected as vice chair.

The IHR Review Committee is considered a WHO expert committee and so its operations and structure follows regulations for WHO expert advisory panels and committees, and provisions of the IHR.

Proceedings

The committee will determine its methods and schedule of work.

The first meeting is scheduled for 12-14 April 2010 at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Observers invited to the first meeting include representatives of all States Parties to the IHR (194 countries), United Nations organizations and relevant intergovernmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations in official relations with WHO.

The committee will advise the Director-General of its views and findings. Based on the committee's advice, the Director-General will provide an interim report to the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2010, and an expected second, final report to the WHA in May 2011.

Participation by countries (IHR States Parties)

Countries will have the opportunity to make brief statements to the committee at first meeting, and may also submit comments to the Review Committee on key issues, concerns and lessons learned related to the pandemic response and functioning of the IHR.

More about the IHR

In the globalized world, diseases can rapidly spread far and wide via international travel and trade. A health crisis in one country can impact livelihoods and economies in many parts of the world. Emerging infections such as an influenza pandemic are an important cause of such events. However, other public health emergencies such as chemical spills, leaks and dumping, or nuclear melt-downs may similarly have global effects.

The IHR are not specific for any one disease or group of diseases but generally aim to limit interference with international traffic and trade while ensuring public health through the prevention of disease spread. The IHR define the rights and obligations of countries to report public health events, and establish a number of procedures that WHO must follow in its work to uphold global public health security. The IHR also require countries to strengthen their existing capacities for public health surveillance and response.

(updated from 1 April 2010 version)

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