What are the International Health Regulations?

Online Q&A
10 April 2008

Q: What are the International Health Regulations?

A: The International Health Regulations (IHR) are an international legal instrument that is binding on 194 countries across the globe, including all the Member States of WHO. 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.

In the globalized world, diseases can 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. Such crises can result from emerging infections like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), or a new human influenza pandemic. The IHR can also apply to other public health emergencies such as chemical spills, leaks and dumping, or nuclear melt-downs. The IHR aim to limit interference with international traffic and trade while ensuring public health through the prevention of disease spread.

The IHR, which entered into force on 15 June 2007, require countries to report certain disease outbreaks and public health events to WHO. Building on the unique experience of WHO in global disease surveillance, alert and response, 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. WHO is working closely with countries and partners to provide technical guidance and support to mobilize the resources needed to implement the new rules in an effective and timely manner. Timely and open reporting of public health events will help make the world more secure.

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