Amending the International Health Regulations (2005)

World Health Organization (WHO) Member States are working together to make targeted amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005).

On Wednesday 29 November 2023, Cabinet reserved New Zealand’s position as to whether the 2022 technical amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) (in their entirety) should enter into force for New Zealand.

They did this until the Government can conduct a ‘national interest test’ on the amendments.

The only way to give effect to this was to formally reject the amendments. Rejections may be withdrawn by New Zealand at any time, after which the amendments would come into force, in accordance with Article 63 of the IHR.   

New Zealand has formally notified the World Health Organization (WHO) that it requires further time to consider the amendments, and for that purpose, rejects the amendments.

It is important to note this reservation relates to previous technical amendments adopted unanimously by the World Health Assembly, including in New Zealand, in May 2022 that will come effect in May 2024. The specific amendments reduce the timeframe within which any future amendments to the IHR would enter into force. The consequence of this reservation is that New Zealand will adhere to the former provisions, which give us 24 months to prepare for future amendments, and 18 months to decide whether to opt out. Other countries will have 12 months and 10 months respectively. 

The reservation is separate from more substantive IHR negotiations, as detailed in this webpage below. These substantive IHR negotiations are ongoing, and no additional amendments have been finalised. If there are any further amendments to the IHR, New Zealand will have the opportunity to consider these before they become binding.

The International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) define countries’ rights and obligations in handling public health events and emergencies that have the potential to cross borders. They are the principal international legal framework for preventing and controlling the spread of disease and other public health hazards between countries to protect the health of their citizens.

Implementing the IHR supported New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the IHR continue to serve countries well, COVID-19 has shown us that we can strengthen the IHR to ensure the regulations are fit for purpose in future. It is in all of our interests that the IHR are improved to further enhance countries’ early detection, assessment, responses to and reporting of potentially significant health events.

Signing IHR changes may create new international legal obligations for New Zealand. However, this doesn’t automatically change New Zealand law – only the New Zealand Parliament can do this.

Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations

At the 75th World Health Assembly in May 2022, governments agreed to establish the Working Group on the International Health Regulations (WGIHR) to develop a package of targeted amendments to the IHR. As a first step, the WHO Director-General asked Member States to share their proposals on how the IHR could be strengthened. Over 300 proposed amendments were submitted.

Member States are now discussing these collective proposals through the WGIHR. The aim is to present these amendments, agreed to by the Working Group, to the 77th World Health Assembly in May 2024. Information on the proposals to amend the regulations can be found at Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) on the World Health Organization website.

Note: Negotiations to amend the IHR are taking place at the same time as negotiations on a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, also referred to as the ‘pandemic treaty or other instrument’. These two international negotiations are dealing with similar matters and depending on how the negotiations develop could cover similar topics. The expectation is that the negotiations will be completed in time for both the IHR amendments and the pandemic treaty to be considered by the World Health Assembly meeting in May 2024.

Public consultation on the amendments

In early 2024, the Ministry of Health set up a survey for the public to submit their views on the proposed IHR amendments. We asked New Zealanders to consider the following questions in their submission:

  • Are there aspects of the proposed amendments which you think New Zealand should support or oppose?
  • Is there any other information you would like to provide that would help to develop our position on negotiations to amend the International Health Regulations (2005)?

The consultation ran from 17 January to 18 February 2024 with approximately 3600 responses received. A summary of the responses will be collated and published on this website.

The consultation is one step to inform New Zealand’s position for the ongoing negotiations. Other steps that are still required before New Zealand agrees to be bound by changes to the IHRs include seeking agreement from Cabinet, conducting a National Interest Analysis, and presenting that Analysis and the text of the IHR changes to Parliament for Treaty Examination.

New Zealand’s approach to date

For the negotiating processes, Cabinet has previously agreed to an overarching goal and high-level objectives. The overarching goal was to seek international rules that strengthen the ability of States and international institutions to prevent and mitigate future acute public health events.

The objectives were:

  • Coherence
  • Prevention
  • Equity and capacity building
  • Human rights including the rights of indigenous people
  • Transparency
  • A One Health approach
  • Timely access to pathogens and to health countermeasures
  • Governance
  • Trade

More information can be found in the Cabinet paper on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade’s Media & Resources webpage.

The WGIHR’s work is facilitated by a leadership group called a ‘Bureau’, comprising Member States from all WHO regions. New Zealand has been selected as the Bureau Member for the Western Pacific Region. Former Director-General of Health, Sir Ashley Bloomfield, as the New Zealand Bureau member, is co-chairing this negotiation alongside Dr Abdullah Asiri of Saudi Arabia.

Along with other governments, New Zealand shared its proposals for targeted amendments to the IHR with the WHO Secretariat in September 2022. You can find that submission here.

Related websites

You can access more information at International Health Regulations on Te Whatu Ora’s website.

You can access more information on the Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) on the World Health Organization website.

In addition, the WHO keeps the global health community well updated on progress achieved in the WGIHR via regular press releases.

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