The World Health Organization (WHO) Tuesday opened the initial meeting of an international review panel established to evaluate the performance of its International Health Regulations (IHR) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IHR were last revised in 2005 and grew out of the response to deadly epidemics that once overran Europe. They provide a framework by which nations can respond to an international health emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and they define countries’ rights and obligations in handling emergencies that have the potential to cross borders.
Former WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland told reporters in June that WHO should change the IHR guidelines that led it to oppose travel restrictions early in the outbreak, a step criticized later by the United States.
Last month, current WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for the formation of the review panel that is made up of independent health experts from around the world.
In his opening remarks to the panel, which is meeting virtually Tuesday and Wednesday, Tedros said he was sure they were aware of “the weight of this moment in history, and of the enormous expectations of your work.”
He added that the panel was uniquely equipped to meet the moment.
This is the fourth time such a review committee has been established to examine the response to an international health crisis. Such a panel met in 2010 to evaluate responses to the H1N1 Influenza outbreak, in 2014 to review deadlines for implementing international regulations, and in 2016 for the West Africa Ebola outbreak.
The panel may present interim findings, if they choose, at the World Health Assembly in November and will present their final report at the May 2021 World Health Assembly.