Intersectoral coordination and disease control at points of entry: critical to avert and control health crises
European countries have identified intersectoral coordination and disease control at international airports, ports and ground crossings (points of entry) as critical to ensuring their effective implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR). This would help avert and control health crises, such as the influenza pandemic and the recent outbreaks of foodborne disease and of measles affecting many European countries.
This was the main conclusion of over 100 participants from 50 IHR State Parties, who gathered in Luxembourg on 26–27 February 2013 to discuss the achievements and remaining challenges in the WHO European Region in improving preparedness for and response to health crises under the IHR.
The meeting addressed the IHR as a collective responsibility to foster global health security, including crisis preparedness and response. It is part of a global series of such implementation meetings taking place in all WHO regions.
The first day targeted senior decision-makers from health ministries, to take stock of the implementation process five years after IHR’s entry into force. On the second day, participants discussed issues related to technical capacity in more depth, including event management, risk assessment and crisis communication.
IHR: reach beyond the health sector
Owing to the intersectoral nature of IHR, the participants called for their greater promotion beyond the health sector, both nationally and internationally. The participants supported the “one-health” approach to prevent ill health in animals and thereby reduce animal-transmitted human diseases. In addition, they called for standardizing disease control at points of entry, for example, for insect-borne diseases. This is a challenge in the European Region, which is a hub for the international transport of people and goods and where border-control arrangements are so diverse.
Implementing IHR in partnership
The meeting participants identified partnership as an underlying feature of successful IHR implementation in a globalized, interdependent world.
WHO’s close collaboration with the European Commission (EC) and European Union (EU) agencies, such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), is an essential component of health security for many countries in the Region. In addition, mutual assistance by countries is a requirement under the IHR that translates into concrete bilateral projects in support of implementation in the Region.
WHO assistance in simulation exercises
Countries requested WHO assistance in exercises to test existing mechanisms under the IHR, in order to strengthen staff skills in different areas and involve other sectors. They welcomed expert and financial support from other countries and donors as a way to build harmonized capacity and share best practices in IHR implementation across the Region.
IHR focal points meeting
The EC hosted the first meeting of European national focal points (NFPs) for the IHR in five years, which was held back to back with its meeting for contact points for the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS). WHO/Europe organized the event with the support of the EC, Germany and the United Kingdom, in close collaboration with WHO headquarters and with participation from four WHO country offices.