How Should the World Be Warned of Global Health Emergencies?

The year 2020 has highlighted a need for a method of sending differentiated warnings for dire health risks. The World Health Organization (WHO) has begun to look at different alert system to send notifications to at least the members of the organization after governments appeared to react too slowly to the early threat from the COVID-19 virus. One of the primary drivers is to find a way of sending an alert to try to eliminate the spread of a potentially serious disease. The WHO maintains the International Health Regulations (IHR), a binding treaty that all members must adhere to, and that the organization updates periodically. Professionals outside of the organization have been pressing to begin a larger discussion about the regulations. The call to begin a larger discussion actually started during the Ebola outbreak. It highlighted that pandemics were still very much a threat, and it was felt that a system should be in place to inform people of a potentially detrimental public health emergency.

Some members of the organization would like for WHO to be able to send people into affected nations to conduct independent assessments in the event of an outbreak. Though the IHR makes it a requirement to notify WHO of an outbreak, there is no way to enforce this requirement, and some countries fail to report a problem. The initial WHO assessment of the IHR has found that there is a need to update the sections about notifications and verification of outbreaks or events. The focus is on understanding why nations don’t report and to try to find incentives that will increase the likelihood that all nations will provide early detection warnings. Protection is also needed for those who travel on behalf of the WHO to verify and assess situations. The organization is further looking into a universal peer review that could help prepare medical professionals.

The current deadline for recommendations from the assessment is January 2021. Once the recommendations are presented, WHO will decide which to act on and how those recommendations are best met.

To better understand the need for another review and the process to update the IHR, check out How Should the World Be Warned of Global Health Emergencies?

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