Canada and the International Health Regulations (IHR): Overview

What are the IHR?

Our world is growing closer and more connected every day. Global outbreaks like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola virus disease (EVD), and COVID-19 have taught us that an outbreak in one country can easily spread into another.

The International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) are binding on the World Health Organization (WHO) and 196 countries, including Canada. The IHR, which came into force in 2007, require countries to work together for global health security. They are focused on addressing serious public health threats that have the potential to spread beyond a country’s borders to other parts of the world. Through the IHR, countries have agreed to build their capacities to detect, assess, report, and respond to public health events.

The IHR aim to prevent, protect against, control, and respond to the international spread of disease, while avoiding unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. The IHR are also designed to reduce the risk of disease spread at international airports, ports, and ground crossings.

The IHR establish a set of rules to support the global outbreak alert and response system, to require countries to improve international surveillance and reporting mechanisms for public health events, and to strengthen their national surveillance and response capacities. The IHR also establish a number of procedures that the WHO must follow as the coordinating body. This makes the IHR a necessary public health instrument central to ensuring global health security.

What does the Government of Canada do to ensure it meets the obligations under the IHR (2005)?

As a signatory to the IHR, Canada is committed to help strengthen global health security by building capacities to detect, assess, report, and respond to public health events both domestically and internationally.

Through monitoring and evaluation activities, such as the voluntary WHO Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of Canada’s IHR capacities, real-life events, and emergency preparedness and response exercises, our country has confirmed its ability to meet the public health core capacity requirements needed to cooperate in IHR global efforts. Canada continues to work collaboratively with Health Portfolio and federal, provincial, and territorial partners to help improve public health preparedness and response, and further contribute to health systems strengthening.

Canada has also established a National IHR Focal Point (NFP) as required under the IHR (Article 4) for rapid communication with Canadian public health authorities, the WHO and its regional office the Pan American Health Organization, and other countries.

How are the IHR implemented in Canada?

In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is the lead organization for implementing the IHR. Canada’s National IHR Focal Point Office, which is located within PHAC, coordinates the implementation of the IHR on behalf of the Government of Canada. IHR activities are a shared responsibility and as such, IHR implementation is supported by Canada’s Health Portfolio and other federal departments, and provincial and territorial governments.

Canada implements the IHR under existing legislation, regulations, policies, and agreements in place at both the federal, and the provincial and territorial levels.

The success of IHR implementation in Canada relies on ongoing collaboration among relevant sectors on issues of shared responsibility. Among these requirements is the ability to carry out: surveillance, reporting, notification, verification, response, and collaboration activities across the country and at points of entry (designated airports, ports, and ground crossings with international traffic). Because of the differences in legislation among federal, provincial, and territorial governments, Canada has mechanisms, agreements, and plans in place that enable national coordination, particularly during public health emergencies that require federal involvement.

How does IHR implementation benefit health security in Canada and abroad?

Countries who have signed on to the IHR (or States Parties), including Canada, benefit from IHR implementation by being an active and respected partner in the international effort to maintain global health security, gaining access to global guidance, resources, information, collaboration, and assistance to help manage public health risks and emergencies of international concern.

Globally, significant progress has been made in strengthening the national capacities required to implement the IHR. However, full implementation remains a challenge for many countries. For that reason, Canada is pleased to support collaborative efforts for international capacity-building, monitoring, and evaluation that contribute to health system strengthening. This support is delivered in the form of financial contributions, technical assistance, workshops, and training programs. Canada’s collaborative multi-sectoral engagement and leadership in the implementation of the IHR demonstrates our ongoing commitment to domestic and global health security.

As a Member State of the WHO and State Party to the IHR, Canada supports and remains actively engaged in the various international review processes initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen WHO preparedness and response to health emergencies and to enhance the IHR as a means to bolster global health security.

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