Global health security: all sectors and countries needed

Responding to international health threats: 5 things you should know

Wide international travel and globalized trade offer extraordinary opportunities for the international spread of disease. Today, a health threat in any part of the world is a health threat to any population around the world.

Threats to health also move faster than ever before. They include sudden shocks to health and economies from emerging diseases, such as pandemic and avian influenza, humanitarian emergencies and even potential bioterrorism.

From IHR ratification to first deadline for implementation

In the WHO European Region, 21 countries have requested extensions to the deadline set for developing the core capacities for implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR): June 2014. They need more time to fully develop their capacities to detect, assess, inform about and respond to emergencies.

When the IHR entered into force in 2007, they established an early warning system not only for infectious diseases but for anything that can threaten human health and livelihoods, including radiation and chemical hazards. Since then, countries and WHO/Europe have focused on developing national capacities to make health security a global reality. This goal has not yet been reached. Until all countries are fully prepared to respond to disease outbreaks and emergencies, no country is safe.

Leveraging national capacities until the final deadline for implementation

Better prepared countries are stronger international partners during disease outbreaks and emergencies. WHO/Europe can help.

While countries have developed their capacities to implement the International Health Regulations (IHR) to a large extent, these can only have their full effects if different ministries and neighbour countries coordinate their efforts. Although countries face public health threats on a daily basis, they do not take full advantage of the IHR as a day-to-day tool.

At a meeting in Luxembourg in February 2013, the 55 States Parties to the IHR in the European Region (53 Member States, the Holy See and Liechtenstein) acknowledged that the health sector needs more support to empower national IHR focal points, to test developed capacities, to advocate outside the health sector and to gain the commitment of senior decision-makers. Countries have developed capacities to gather epidemiological data on public health threats, but these can only be useful if they are analysed and shared among sectors and with other countries and WHO.

WHO/Europe has strengthened its role in guiding States Parties to assess public health threats and to develop as fast as possible their IHR capacities in the following areas:

  • ports, airports and ground-crossings
  • cross-border collaboration among neighbouring regions and countries
  • risk communication
  • national legislation
  • event-based surveillance and early warning systems
  • national exercises to test and assess capacities and mechanisms
  • topic- or sector-specific support.

The deadline for final implementation of the IHR is 2016. If all countries meet it, they will have a powerful tool to ensure global health security.