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Opinion Piece Clarifies Role Of Public Health Emergency Of International Concern Designation

The Lancet: The truth about PHEICs
Johan Giesecke, professor emeritus at Karolinska Institute, on behalf of the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards (STAG-IH)

“The recent decision by the WHO director general that the Ebola virus outbreak in [the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo)] does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) has generated controversy … Members of the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards (STAG-IH) … would like to clarify the role of the International Health Regulations (IHR) and the designation of a PHEIC. … The decision to declare a PHEIC lies with the WHO director general and requires the input of a committee of experts — the IHR emergency committee. By declaring a PHEIC, the director general requires state parties to share critical information for risk assessment, adjust response plans if deemed necessary, and implement temporary recommendations formulated by the emergency committee. … [T]he declaration of a PHEIC for the current Ebola outbreak would add no clear benefit in any of these three areas. Both DR Congo and Uganda are providing information in a timely manner, and 10 months into the outbreak (with innumerable daily border crossings of inhabitants in the area), the recent event in Uganda is confined to close family members. Members of the emergency committee cited potential disadvantages of a PHEIC declaration (effects on travel and trade that could impede support to affected regions and hinder outbreak control) and provided technical advice that the STAG-IH supports fully. … The public health community must recognize the close link between disease and trade inherent in IHR (2005) and the risks and benefits of using this strong instrument of international law to raise awareness and resources — a policy that could jeopardize the future effectiveness of these regulations in sectors of society other than health” (7/5).