On 17 July, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Director-General declared, under Article 12 of the International Health Regulations (IHR), that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The declaration took place after an Emergency Committee issued its advice in the same sense.
The aftermath of the PHEIC declaration has given way to questions about what exactly its implications –legal and otherwise– are. Some of the general features of PHEICs are described elsewhere. In turn, this post provides a closer look at the underlying legal regime of the IHR, with an emphasis on provisions related to the declaration of a PHEIC. Afterwards, a brief account of the current situation in the DRC Ebola outbreak is provided. Lastly, some of the potential consequences, legal and otherwise, of a PHEIC declaration are discussed.
The Legal Regime of PHEICs
The IHR were approved at the 58th World Health Assembly in 2005, in accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution of the WHO. This provision gives the World Health Assembly the authority to issue regulations, inter alia, in the subject of “procedures designed to prevent the international spread of disease”. Notably, the IHR do not require further ratification by states to enter into force, rather only a two-thirds majority vote in the World Health Assembly (Article 60a Constitution of the WHO). Regulations adopted under this procedure become binding for all WHO Member States, with the exception of those which explicitly “opt out”. The IHR entered into force in 2007, and are currently binding for all 194 WHO Member States and Liechtenstein. Read the rest of this entry…