The WHO hosted the first meeting of the Review Committee of the International Health Regulations in Geneva, Switzerland from 12 – 14 April 2010. The Review Committee was also charged with the assessment of WHO’s response to the H1N1 pandemic.
The IHR Review Committee is made up of approximately 29 members “who have been selected from the roster of experts under the IHR structure or other WHO expert committees. The committee members represent a broad mix of expertise, practical experience and backgrounds, and includes experts from developed and developing countries. The members are some of the leading experts in the world in their respective fields. They are not WHO staff, nor do they receive funding from WHO for their contributions to the review process. Names of the committee members were made public prior to the first meeting.”
The review has three key objectives:
- Assess the functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005);
- Assess the ongoing global response to the pandemic H1N1 (including the role of WHO); and
- Identify lessons learned important for strengthening preparedness and response for future pandemics and public health emergencies.
Based on the committee’s advice, the Director-General will provide an interim report to the World Health Assembly (WHA) in May 2010, and an expected second, final report to the WHA in May 2011.
WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan opened the IHR Committee’s work. Her remarks are excerpted below:
“…This has been the first influenza pandemic in four decades. This has been the first major test of the functioning of the revised International Health Regulations, which entered into force in 2007.
“The International Health Regulations have a provision that calls for a review of their functioning no later than five years after their entry into force. In 2008, the World Health Assembly decided that this first review should be undertaken by the Sixty-third World Health Assembly in May 2010.
“…I believe there is merit in assessing the performance of an international instrument, like the IHR, when put to an extreme test by a widespread and closely scrutinized infectious disease event.
“As I have said before, this has been the most closely watched and carefully scrutinized pandemic in history. This gives us a vast body of scientific, clinical, and epidemiological data to assess.
“Moreover, the pandemic’s spread was rapidly global. To date, laboratory confirmed cases of H1N1 pandemic influenza have been officially reported from 213 countries and overseas territories or communities. This gives us a vast and varied experience to assess.
“…I see potential advantages in assessing the performance of the Regulations with a particular focus on the influenza pandemic and how it was managed, especially at the international level by WHO. When the performance of the IHR is assessed under the challenging conditions of an influenza pandemic, specific strengths and weaknesses are likely to come to light.
“..We are seeking lessons, about how the IHR has functioned, about how WHO and the international community responded to the pandemic, that can aid the management of future public health emergencies of international concern. And I can assure you: there will be more.
“We want to know what worked well. We want to know what went wrong and, ideally, why. We want to know what can be done better and, ideally, how…
“…As I said, we want a frank, critical, transparent, credible and independent review of our performance, as well as that of the International Health Regulations. The Secretariat will do everything it can to facilitate such a process.”
Transcript of press briefing at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Dr Harvey Fineberg, Chair, IHR Review Committee, 14 April 2010 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/multimedia/pc_transcript_14_april_10_fineberg.pdf