WHO’s international health regulations-Health ministry in race against WHO deadline


Stakeholders at the meeting yesterday

The IHR is a set of mandatory regulations which must be adopted by Seychelles as a member state by June 2014.

This emerged at a stakeholders meeting hosted by the ministry at the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nayan diagnostic centre which was attended by the Minister for Health, Mitcy Larue. The aim was to increase awareness on the IHR and establish an effective coordination mechanism for planning, preparation and response to national public health emergencies, including public health events of international concern (PHEICs), without unnecessary interference with international trade and traffic.

According to Dr Shobha Hajarnis, director of the general public health division at the ministry, Seychelles is legally obliged by WHO to develop minimum core public health capacities, such as the obligation to notify WHO about PHEICs, protection of the human rights of people and travellers and develop the capacity to deal with infectious, biological, chemical or radioactive events which may threaten the health of the population.

The international health regulations were first formulated by the WHO in 1969, and were substantively reviewed and updated in 2005 due to an increase in cross-border travel and the subsequent spread of diseases.

Full implementation of the new provisions by all 195 member states was supposed to have been completed in 2012, but the deadline for Seychelles and several other countries was extended by two years to June 2014.

WHO’s liaison officer for Seychelles, Dr Cornelia Atsyor, said: “We really need to prepare, because emergencies do not give you any warning. They don’t knock at your door and tell you that tomorrow I’m going to be here. So we need to prepare and have our contingency plans in place and I would like to commend the ministry and other sectors that developed the flu plan which is already in place.”

However, Dr Atsyor warned that the IHR does not only cover infectious diseases, so it was necessary to expand the scope of national emergency plans.

“This is a big challenge for us and it’s not just for the Ministry of Health alone. All of you here are stakeholders and we need to put our heads together to develop this as early as possible.”

Dr Hajarnis stressed that although gaps in the implementation of the regulations still remained, Seychelles had already put into place many of the regulations, and that this was an achievement for the country.

“If you look at all these regulations and look at how we responded to the recent epidemic of dengue, we have done everything – we went to the WHO, who supported us fully and we mobilised the financial resources from the country itself. We took all the steps required to mitigate the problem.”

Dr Atsyor estimated that it would require a total of US $622,000 to fill the current gaps in implementing the IHR, including measures for new legislation, bio-security measures, building a national database of disaster management experts, assessing ports of entry, food safety regulations, measures to deal with radioactive waste and exposure, risk communication and mapping potential hazards and resources.

She mentioned that the costs could be at least partly covered by the WHO and its other partners, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“There are lots of partners who are interested in supporting countries who are implementing the IHR core capacities, so we are not alone and we should not despair when we look at the huge amount that we have budgeted. The important thing is to develop the core capacities before June 2014, which is only a year away.”