New Guidelines on Travel and Trade Restrictions and Outbreaks Coming in 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a pressing need to develop guidelines for countries on the effectiveness and impact of travel and trade restrictions in preventing, delaying or reducing the international spread of disease during outbreaks. These restrictions include, but are not limited to, travel bans, visa requirements, flight suspension, quarantine, and exit and entry screening.

While such measures constitute efforts to control disease spread across borders, which is an important element of the International Health Regulations (IHR), they can have an adverse economic impact on the countries experiencing the outbreaks. As a result, countries are discouraged from openly reporting outbreaks to avoid a reduction in demand for service industries such as tourism and business travel.

The WHO aims to strengthen IHR compliance while mitigating economic impact due to disease burden and public fear. To that aim, the new guidelines, which will be based on a thorough review of the quantitative and qualitative research and knowledge in this area, aim to better inform countries’ compliance with the requirements of the IHR.

From May 9-10, 2019, the Guideline Development Group (GDG) tasked with this work convened for the first time in Tunis, Tunisia to formulate research questions and a research agenda to inform guideline development. Dr. Angela Hilmers, Senior Associate Director of Science for the TEPHINET Secretariat, represents TEPHINET on this committee. In its initial meeting, the GDG defined its scope of work and formulated research questions related to economic and financial considerations, human rights, societal impact, and health system considerations.

The GDG will convene again to review the evidence and issue recommendations prior to drafting the guidelines, which are expected to be finalized, translated and disseminated in early 2020.