Background: The International Health Regulations (IHRs) (2005) was developed with the aim of governing international responses to public health risks and emergencies. The document requires all 194 World Health Organization (WHO) Member States to detect, assess, notify and report any potential public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) under specific timelines. Annex 2 of the IHR outlines decision-making criteria for State-appointed National Focal Points (NFP) to report potential PHEICs to the WHO, and is a critical component to the effective functioning of the IHRs.
Methods: The aim of the study was to review and evaluate the functioning of Annex 2 across WHO-reporting States Parties. Specific objectives were to ascertain NFP awareness and knowledge of Annex 2, practical use of the tool, activities taken to implement it, its perceived usefulness and user-friendliness. Qualitative telephone interviews, followed by a quantitative online survey, were administered to NFPs between October, 2009 and February, 2010.
Results: A total of 29 and 133 NFPs participated in the qualitative and quantitative studies, respectively. Qualitative interviews found most NFPs had a strong working knowledge of Annex 2; perceived the tool to be relevant and useful for guiding decisions; and had institutionalized management, legislation and communication systems to support it. NFPs also perceived Annex 2 as human and disease-centric, and emphasized its reduced applicability to potential PHEICs involving bioterrorist attacks, infectious diseases among animals, radio-nuclear and chemical spills, and water- or food-borne contamination. Among quantitative survey respondents, 88% reported having excellent/good knowledge of Annex 2; 77% reported always/usually using Annex 2 for assessing potential PHEICs; 76% indicated their country had some legal, regulatory or administrative provisions for using Annex 2; 95% indicated Annex 2 was always/usually useful for facilitating decisions regarding notifiability of potential PHEICs.
Conclusion: This evaluation, including a large sample of WHO-reporting States Parties, found that the IHR's Annex 2 is perceived as useful for guiding decisions about notifiability of potential PHEICs. There is scope for the WHO to expand training and guidance on application of the IHR's Annex 2 to specific contexts. Continued monitoring and evaluation of the functioning of the IHR is imperative to promoting global health security.