WHA wraps up with IHR, virus-sharing updates

May 29, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Assembly (WHA) wrapped up its annual meeting May 26 in Geneva, with attendees turning their attention to several infectious disease–related topics, including implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHRs) and pandemic flu preparedness.

Senior health officials from 194 member states took part in the 6-day meeting, which also included nongovernmental organizations and other stakeholders, according to a May 26 statement from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Earlier in the week, WHA committees approved a resolution for polio eradication to be treated as a "programmatic emergency for global public health," alongside the launch by health groups of an emergency plan for driving the disease out of its final three strongholds: Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Members also endorsed a Global Vaccine Action Plan, drafted by stakeholders from 140 countries and 290 organizations, which defines priorities for the next decade and sets objectives for achieving them. They also designated the last week in April as World Immunization Week.

On the final meeting day, a WHA committee received an annual update on the implementation of the IHRs, which were revised in 2005 for the first time since 1969 and went into effect in June 2007. The rules specify the commitments and responsibilities that countries and the WHO have in limiting the global impact of epidemics and other public health emergencies.

Tools countries use for monitoring their core capacities and action steps reveal that, for 2011, nations made fair progress in areas such as surveillance, response, laboratories, and zoonotic events, the WHO said in its daily meeting notes. However, the agency said most regions report relatively low capacities in human resources and preparedness for chemical and radiological events.

Many countries have requested or will ask for a 2-year extension to mid 2012 for establishing their core IHR capacities, the WHO said. Some delegates aired difficulties in implementing measures related to points of entry and voiced the need to engage stakeholders outside of the health sector, as well enhancing connections with regional and transregional networks.

The WHA also considered a report from the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness  (PIP) framework advisory group, based on its February deliberations. At the 2011 WHA, the full assembly made final changes to the PIP agreement, which took a working group 3 years of difficult negotiations to develop and is designed to ease the sharing of influenza viruses and ensure that developing countries have affordable access to drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tools made from the viruses.

The report outlined issues surrounding material transfer agreements related to pandemic preparedness biologic materials to entities outside of the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, according to WHO background materials. Also, the advisory group has advised the director-general that, in the early phases of the PIP framework implementations, more partnership contributions should be toward preparedness rather than response.

The group recommended that 70% of partner contributions be used for preparedness measures over the next 5 years and 30% be reserved for response activities, giving the director-general leeway to modify allocations as needed, such as during an emergency response.

WHA delegates agreed on the recommended split between preparedness and response allocations, but said the issue should be regularly reviewed, according to the WHO.

In other developments, WHA delegates approved a report on global mass gatherings and the implications for global health security. They expressed the need for members to share lessons learned from past mass gatherings and highlighted the need for preventive measures, such as mobile surveillance teams that can quickly identify and respond to outbreaks, according to meeting notes.

See also:

May 26 WHO press release

May 25 WHO press release

May 25 CIDRAP News story "Emergency plan unveiled for major push against polio"

May 25 CIDRAP News Scan "WHA committee endorses global vaccine plan"

Mar 22 PIP advisory group report

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