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U.S. Seeks IHR Amendments, Ceding Greater Authority to World Health Organization

Significant changes initiated by the United States to a key document governing the prevention of the spread of infectious disease may consolidate greater power in the hands of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its Director-General, pending consideration at the 75th World Health Assembly on May 22-25, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The United States has proposed thirteen amendments to the International Health Regulations 2005 Agreement, or IHR (2005), that, if passed, would apply to 194 participating nations and modify international public health rules—including significant expansion of the powers invested in the WHO Director-General under a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) event.

These changes include such measures as including a greater range of global organizations in emergency health response, expanding the powers of the Director-General to declare public health emergencies and override the State Parties themselves, and adding new diversity, equity, and inclusion requirements to a key committee.

The United States communicated these proposed amendments, in the form of detailed text additions and deletions, in a letter from HHS Assistant Secretary Lloyd Pace on January 18, 2022.

  • An update to Article 5 stipulates that WHO develop new “early warning criteria for assessing and progressively updating the national, regional or global risk posed by an event of unknown costs or sources.”
  • An update to Article 6 outlines the responsibility of member states to notify WHO of emerging threats within 48 hours and empowers WHO to notify other member states within 48 hours. It also expands the entities that WHO may notify to include international organizations beyond the original International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), adding the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), “or other relevant entities.” The proposed article 6 amendment also adds “genetic sequence data” to the public health information required from affected member states, if available.
  • An update to Article 9 removes the requirement that “Before taking any action based on such reports, WHO shall consult with and attempt to obtain verification from the State Party in whose territory the event is allegedly occurring.”
  • Updates to Article 10 place strict deadlines on executing WHO collaboration during a public health emergency, putting member states on a 24- to 48-hour timeline for acceptance or rejection of collaboration. It also amends the action triggered by rejection of collaboration with WHO: “If the State Party does not accept the offer of collaboration within 48 hours, WHO shall may, when justified by the magnitude of the public health risk, immediately share with other States Parties the information available to it, whilst encouraging the State Party to accept the offer of collaboration by WHO, taking into account the views of the State Party concerned.”
  • Updates to Article 11 strengthen WHO’s public health information-sharing responsibility and authority regarding public health risks. These include an additional, broad entry in the conditions for information-sharing: “[when] WHO determines it is necessary that such information be made available to other States Parties to make informed, timely risk assessments.”
  • Updates to Article 12 include sweeping expansions of the WHO Director-General’s authority to designate a public health emergency, including the addition of the words “potential or actual,” adding the authority to “notify all States Parties” while “[seeking] to consult with the State Party in whose territory the event arises,” removing the requirement that the Director-General and the State Party agree that the event constitutes a public health emergency, and enhancing the Director-General’s authority to issue intermediate alerts even if the event has not met the criterion of an international public health emergency.
  • Updates to Article 13 modify the language describing WHO’s role in public health risk response, including changing “shall collaborate” to “shall offer assistance,” changing “may offer” to “shall offer,” adding a requirement that “The State Party shall accept or reject such an offer of assistance within 48 hours,” and indicating that State Parties must provide rationale for rejection.
  • An update to Article 15 adds “the deployment of expert teams” to a list of possible temporary recommendations.
  • Updates to Article 18 prescribe additional consultations by the Director-General “with relevant international agencies such as ICAO, IMO and WTO in order to avoid unnecessary interference with international travel and trade, as appropriate.”
  • Updates to Article 48 add new criterion for “equitable…representation” on the Emergency Committee, adding “age” and “gender” to the former requirement for simply “equitable geographical representation.”
  • An update to Article 59 outlines a six-month deadline “for rejection of, or reservation to, an amendment to these Regulations” and stipulates that “amendments to these Regulations shall enter into force six months after the date of notification” by the Director-General of the adoption of an amendment.

Additional amendments contain procedural changes regarding committee work. Read all of the proposed amendments here.

The proposed changes by the United States to the IHR (2005) Agreement carry serious implications for the sovereignty of nation-states versus the consolidation of power in the hands of a supranational global organization under the leadership of an unelected Director-General.

These amendments would cede greater authority to WHO and enhance the opportunity for future public health crises (or events that the governing body deems as such) to advance the interests of a globally-controlled and funded governing body and undermine the rights of citizens. A threat to national sovereignty is a threat to individual freedom, inevitably giving rise to incursions on the conscience rights and religious freedoms that Americans cherish—and organizations like NRB exist to protect.

As an association dedicated to preserving First Amendment freedoms and religious free speech, NRB continues to monitor these issues for impacts on Christians and their ability to practice their faith and follow the dictates of their conscience. As these amendments are taken under consideration at the 75th World Health Assembly on May 22-25, the eyes of the world—and of Christians—are on Geneva.

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