Intergovernmental working group to take forward revision of
the International Health Regulations
The 56th World Health Assembly, which convened 19-28 May
2003, has decided to establish and intergovernmental working group open to
all member states to review and recommend a draft revision of the International
Health Regulations (1, 2).
The Assembly urged member states to establish immediately a national standing
task force or equivalent group and, within it, to designate an official
or officials having operational responsibilities and accessible at all times
by telephone or electronic communication, to ensure speed, particularly
during emergencies, of both reporting to the World Health Organization (WHO)
and consultation with national authorities when urgent decisions must be
Collaboration, when appropriate, with veterinary, agricultural and other
relevant agencies involved in animal care in the research on, and planning
and implementation of, preventive control measures was also urged.
The director general of the WHO has been requested by the Assembly to take
into account reports from sources other than official notifications, to
validate these reports according to established epidemiological principles,
and to alert, when necessary and after informing the government concerned,
the international community to the presence of a public health threat that
may constitute a serious threat to neighbouring countries or to international
The latest developments in the revision of the international health regulations
have been driven by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic.
In its resolution on SARS (2), the Assembly urged the director general to
update and standardise guidelines on international travel, particularly
air travel; to update surveillance guidelines, including case definitions,
clinical and laboratory diagnosis, and management, and effective preventive
measures; and to review and update the classification of 'areas with recent
A useful document on the status of the SARS outbreak and lessons for the
immediate future was prepared by WHO for presentation to the Assembly (http://www.who.int/csr/media/sars_wha.pdf).