International context – the International Health Regulations

New Zealand is a signatory to the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR) – an international agreement developed by member countries of the World Health Organization.

See International Health Regulations 2005 for more background.

The purpose of the IHR is to protect against the international spread of disease, by providing measures to prevent, prepare for, and respond to such events. Any public health response must be appropriate to the public health risk and avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.

The IHR has a wide scope to cover existing and new diseases, as well as emergencies caused by non-infectious disease agents (eg, radiation or chemical spills) and pests/vectors. 

IHR and the border

The IHR is an important framework for many border controls. It takes a pro-active approach, with defined procedures and responsibilities between the World Health Organization (WHO) and member states.

Countries are required to notify WHO of all events that could be a ‘public health emergency of international concern’. The IHR includes a decision-making instrument to support countries making such assessments. Supporting guidance to countries on how to use the decision-making instrument has been developed by WHO – see the WHO decision-making tool guidance (PDF, 433 KB).

A key focus of the IHR is on capacity building. Each country needs to work to ensure it has:

  • core surveillance and response capacities for public health threats, and
  • core public health capacities at their international points of entry (airports, seaports, and any land border crossings). These core capacities are regarded as critical for preventing the international spread of disease and other public health risks. The requirements include having access to appropriate medical facilities, trained staff and the right equipment, and providing a safe environment for travellers. Countries also need capacities to be able to respond to a potential public health emergency of international concern (such as a pandemic).

For more information about the core capacities required at New Zealand international airports and seaports, see Meeting core capacity requirements for international points of entry.

The IHR also includes a range of public health actions, measures and documentation requirements for international travellers, goods, cargo, and conveyances (ships and aircraft), and the ports and airports that they use. This covers the provision of facilities, services, inspections, quarantine, treatment and a range of control activities which enable health authorities to protect against public health threats.

In November 2018 New Zealand completed its first Joint External Evaluation of the IHR. You can find out more about this evaluation on the WHO website.

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