Financing, stages of alert for potential pandemics among the issues debated in sixth meeting of WGIHR

WHO Member States this week continued their negotiations on proposals for amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR), with extensive discussion on financing for preparedness and response to health emergencies, as one of the areas of common interest to the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB).

The sixth meeting of the Working Group on Amendments to the IHR (WGIHR) was held on 7-8 December 2023. The IHR are a set of legally binding obligations for the 196 States Parties and for WHO with respect to public health events with risk of international spread. The proposed amendments, of which more than 300 have been submitted by States Parties to 33 of the 66 articles of the IHR, are a reaction to the challenges encountered during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“WGIHR members had very constructive discussions this week that continue to move us towards a package of amendments to be submitted to the next World Health Assembly. Of particular importance was agreeing on next steps on financing mechanisms for health emergency preparedness and response. The WGIHR is working in coordination with the INB on this and other common issues,” said Co-Chair Dr Ashley Bloomfield of New Zealand.

Co-Chair Dr Abdullah Asiri of Saudi Arabia also noted that, “One of the most critical matters the WGIHR is discussing centres on proposals for a tiered alert system, also referred to by Member States as the ‘public health alert – PHEIC – pandemic continuum’. The greater clarity we achieve on these definitions and the actions they require, the more prepared the world will be for the next pandemic.”

Delegations considered the text proposals from the Bureau, a group of 6 Member States representatives, appointed by the WGIHR from among the 6 WHO Regions, to facilitate the negotiations on the proposed amendments. For this meeting, the Bureau’s text covered more than half of the articles and annexes for which amendments have been submitted and was derived from discussions at previous meetings. Work will continue on the remaining articles that have proposed amendments, so that an overall package can be finalized and agreed by May 2024.

Member States of the WGIHR are working in close coordination with the INB, another ongoing government-led process to negotiate an international agreement, instrument or convention to prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics. One of the cross-cutting subjects for both processes is the alert and response system, in particular the pandemic declaration and actions connected with it. To support this, the WGIHR will convene a subgroup to facilitate further consultations, in coordination with the INB.

Before the next WGIHR meeting, scheduled to take place on 5-9 February 2024, discussions will continue among proponents of different amendments, including with INB subgroups.

The Working Group will also meet in April 2024 to finalize its proposed package of amendments to be presented to the World Health Assembly in May.

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