In Response to the SARS Pandemic:
Concluding Observations from an Article Published in 2005 on the New International Health Regulations
(Note by: Sienho Yee, Editor-in-Chief, Chinese Journal of International Law: Nearly twenty years ago, the world experienced the pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In responding to this pandemic, countries charted a new course in global health governance by adopting the International Health Regulations (2005), one of the most significant agreements in the history of international cooperation on public health. In the conclusion to his September 2005 article on the IHR (2005) in the Chinese Journal of International Law (see below), David Fidler captured the agreement’s importance to a world undergoing dramatic change. His thoughts from that moment in history speak to the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents to an international society again experiencing transformation.)
The adoption of the new IHR in 2005 constitutes a seminal event in the history of the relationship between international law and public health. The revised Regulations contain an approach to global disease surveillance and response radically different from anything previously seen in international law on public health. Analysed against the history of the classical regime, the new IHR send powerful messages about how human societies should think about and collectively govern their vulnerabilities to serious, acute disease events in the twenty-first century. These messages communicate the need to shift from traditional, State-centric approaches that balanced parochial or imperial economic and public health objectives in a very limited way toward an expanded governance strategy that integrates multiple threats, actors and objectives in a flexible, forward-looking and universal manner.
The world conceived in the international sanitary conventions, the ISR and the old IHR has long since been transformed by breath-taking technological developments, earth-shaking political upheavals and border-breaking economic globalization. The revised IHR perceive a new world forming, in which global health security is a fundamental governance challenge for all humanity from the local to the global level. The world of global health security is one in which governments, intergovernmental organizations and non-State actors collaborate in a ‘‘new way of working’’ by contributing toward a common goal through science, technology and law rather than through anarchical competition for power.
This vision is not a vision of a world without disease. We cannot lawyer diseases out of human societies by radically changing the IHR. Global health security’s premise is that diseases will keep threatening human health. Global health security’s promise is that governance of disease threats can remove the dead hand of the classical regime and wield effectively the new way of working through the new IHR.
The entire 2005 article is available free at the link given below: David P. Fidler, From International Sanitary Conventions to Global Health Security: The New International Health Regulations, 4 Chinese Journal of International Law (2005), 325–392, https://doi.org/10.1093/chinesejil/jmi029 .