International Public Health Emergency


August 12, 2022

A Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is a formal declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) of "an extraordinary event determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through of the international spread of disease and potentially require a coordinated international response", formulated when a "serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected" situation arises that "has implications for public health beyond the national border of the affected State" and "may require action immediate international". Under the International Health Regulations of 2005 (IHR), states have a legal duty to respond promptly to a PHEIC.


The statement is published by an Emergency Committee (EC) composed of international experts operating under the IHR (2005), developed after the 2002/2003 SARS outbreak. 2009 (or swine flu), the 2014 declaration of polio, the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the 2015-16 Zika virus epidemic, the Ebola epidemic in Kivu, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the outbreak of monkeypox by 2022. Recommendations are temporary and require revisions every three months. SARS, smallpox, wild-type polio, and any new human influenza subtypes are automatically PHEICs and therefore do not require an IHR decision to declare them as such. A PHEIC is not just limited to infectious diseases and can cover an emergency caused by a chemical agent or radionuclear material. It is a "call to action" and "last resort" measure. Most epidemics and emergencies do not gain public attention or meet the criteria for being a PHEIC. The EC was not summoned for the cholera outbreak in Haiti, the use of chemical weapons in Syria or the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.