Thank you for contacting me about the proposed changes to the International Health Regulations.
Ministers believe that the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) are a key part of the global health security system to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease.
The original International Sanitary Regulations, which preceded the International Health Regulations, were adopted in 1969 and amended several times: in 1973, in 1981, and in 2005. The third edition (2005) has been amended twice – in 2014 and 2022. The revisions of the regulations illustrate their fluid nature, adapting to the health challenges that the world faces at that time. As medical knowledge changes, I believe it is only right that health regulations change too.
Regarding the current amendments, HM Government (HMG) is eager to ensure that countries' obligations under the IHR remain fit for purpose and reflect the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic. Measures that HMG wish to see include a stronger global commitment to effective disease surveillance, early reporting of potential health threats, and transparency in sharing information. I understand that HMG continues to formulate positions during ongoing textual negotiations and has engaged other World Health Organisation member states on the matter, including through the Working Group on Amendments to the IHR (2005).
In regard to specific amendments, such as Article 59, I welcome that the Government supports targeted IHR amendments to ensure a suitable global framework to respond to international spread of disease, whilst strengthening preparedness and compliance. Parliament may scrutinise legislation relating to amendments accepted by the UK.
Additionally, I can assure you the speculation that somehow the WHO undermines UK sovereignty and gives the WHO powers over national public health measures is simply not the case. The UK remains in control of any future domestic decisions about public health matters—such as domestic vaccination—that might be needed in any future pandemic that we may have to manage. The Government continues to support the WHO as an institution, working with the WHO and other Member States to deliver a WHO that is more efficient, accountable, effective and sustainably financed.
I note that you wish to see the UK withdraw its membership of the WHO because of these proposed changes. I hope this reply has provided sufficient reassurance as to why this is unnecessary. I would not support the UK's withdrawal from the WHO. I am not aware of any plans on the Government's part to consider withdrawal from the UN.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP