Canada and the International Health Regulations (IHR): Overview

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About the International Health Regulations

Our world is growing closer and more connected every day. Global outbreaks and other public health risks like COVID-19, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Ebola virus have taught us that an outbreak in 1 country can easily spread to another.

The International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) are binding on the World Health Organization (WHO) and 196 countries (known as States Parties), 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 and other public health risks, while avoiding unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. They're also designed to reduce the risk of diseases spreading at international airports, ports and ground crossings.

Other obligations established by the IHR require countries to, for example:

  • strengthen their national surveillance and response capacities
  • report certain public health events to WHO

The IHR also establish a number of procedures that WHO must follow as the coordinating body. This makes the IHR a necessary public health instrument central to ensuring global health security.

How Canada meets its obligations under the IHR

As a signatory to the IHR, Canada is committed to help strengthen global health security. We build capacities to detect, assess, report and respond to public health events here at home and abroad.

Canada has confirmed its ability to meet these public health core capacity requirements under the IHR through the following activities:

  • monitoring and evaluation (such as the Joint External Evaluation (JEE) process)
  • real-life events
  • emergency preparedness and response exercises

Collaboration efforts between federal departments and with provincial and territorial partners improve and strengthen our country's public health preparedness and response system.

Canada has also established a National IHR Focal Point (NFP), which is required under IHR Article 4 (Responsible authorities). The NFP supports IHR-related communications between Canadian public health authorities, WHO, its regional office in the Americas (care of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)) and other countries.

Implementing the IHR in Canada

In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is the lead organization for implementing the IHR. PHAC is also Canada's designated National IHR Focal Point (NFP). As the NFP, PHAC coordinates the implementation of the IHR on behalf of the Government of Canada.

IHR activities are a shared responsibility. This means that Canada's Health Portfolio, other federal departments and provincial/territorial governments support IHR implementation.

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

The success of IHR implementation in Canada relies on ongoing collaboration by all partners to carry out surveillance, reporting, notification, verification, response and collaboration activities:

  • across the country and
  • at international points of entry (airports, ports and ground crossings)

Because legislation differs among federal and provincial/territorial governments, Canada has mechanisms, agreements and plans in place that enable national coordination. This is particularly important during public health emergencies that require federal involvement.

How IHR implementation benefits health security in Canada and abroad

Countries that have signed on to the IHR benefit from its implementation. Being an active and respected partner in this international effort helps to:

  • maintain global health security around the world
  • gain 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 to strengthen 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 international collaborative efforts that build capacity and enhanced monitoring and evaluation, which help to strengthen health systems around the world. Our support includes financial contributions, technical assistance, workshops and training programs.

Canada's collaborative multi-sectoral engagement and leadership in implementing the IHR demonstrates our ongoing commitment to domestic and global health security.

As a Member State of WHO and a 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 and other health events. These efforts strengthen the ability of WHO and other countries around the world to prepare for and respond to health emergencies and to enhance the IHR as a way to bolster global health security.

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