France and international health security

The increasing frequency of exchanges at the global level, of both people and goods, has led to heightened health risks. For the international community, major pandemics (AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria), epidemics (such as flu viruses) and emerging illnesses (such as MERS-CoV, SARS, and the Ebola and Zika viruses more recently) are reminders of the importance and difficulty in maintaining health security, and of the wide-ranging consequences of health crises in human, social, diplomatic and economic terms.

The definition of international health security

Health security covers all of the preventive and corrective activities implemented to reduce the vulnerability of populations to health events. This includes preventing, monitoring, detecting and evaluating health risks, as well as defining and applying measures to prepare for, notify, respond to and manage these risks for global public health purposes. Health security and health systems go hand in hand: health security depends on the resilience and ability of health systems to prevent, detect and manage risks.

Health security: central to France’s strategy

France is fully committed to improving international health security, primarily through close cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), which defends this cause. International health security and the fight against epidemics and pandemics are one of the four priorities of the 2014-2019 framework agreement between France and the WHO. During its term on the WHO Executive Board (May 2015-May 2018), France sought to further bolster international health security, in particular by implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR).

France has three main goals:

  • To help build the capacities of States as part of a preventative approach that involves implementing the IHRs in coordination with the WHO;
  • To reinforce European Union activities in the international health security field;
  • To promote the fight against emerging illnesses and guarantee access to products essential for public health.
The WHO Lyon Office

The WHO Lyon Office, which opened in 2000, helps countries strengthen their national surveillance and response systems so they can better detect, evaluate and notify health risks of international concern. Over the 2017-2018 period, France made an exceptional contribution of €5 million to the WHO Lyon Office. This office plays a key role in carrying out international monitoring of infectious diseases and developing WHO recommendations to prevent and fight these diseases.

The International Health Regulations: a legally binding instrument

The International Health Regulations (IHR), which are legally binding, are the main instrument protecting the global population from new and re-emerging diseases, microbial shocks, and other threats to public health and health security.

In practice, States commit to acquiring and maintaining a set of core operational capacities to detect, notify and respond to risks. The acquisition and maintenance of these capacities is central to a State’s ability to respond to a public health emergency and prevent its spread to other countries.

France supports the full implementation of the IHRs, which were adopted in 2005 by the 196 Member States of the WHO, and entered into force in 2007. Today, only one-third of the 196 States who are party to the IHRs comply with them and have the capacities to prevent, detect and respond to large-scale health risks.

To guarantee international health security in a lasting and sustainable way, the IHRs must be effectively implemented and verified. France supported the development of a new monitoring and evaluation framework for IHR implementation. It is now helping to roll out this framework, particularly by mobilizing experts to take part in evaluation missions organized by the WHO at the request of countries.

Updated: 30 November 2018