Document Type


Publication Date



A novel strain of Influenza A (H1N1) spread rapidly through Mexico in April 2009 and now spans the globe. By the time WHO was notified and responded, geographical containment was not feasible, leading the agency to call for mitigation. The international outbreak of SARS in 2003 and the more recent Influenza A (H5N1) among birds with limited transmission to humans helped prepare the world for the current pandemic threat. SARS galvanized the WHO to revise the antiquated International Health Regulations (IHR) in 2005, which took effect June 15, 2007. Governments instituted preparedness plans in response to avian influenza.

Despite increased preparedness, the WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lack key powers and resources. Reminiscent of past responses, many governments are acting out of fear or economic and political self-interest rather than scientific reason. Above all, there are serious questions of global justice, as Mexicans are subject to stigma and discrimination.

This article by Lawrence O. Gostin, O’Neill Professor of Global Health Law at Georgetown University, analyses WHO powers and resources including the pandemic alert system and the IHR, as well as the powers and resources of the CDC. He finds that although the response to H1N1 has been strong, the WHO and CDC need more authority and resources to deal with pandemic threats under the rule of international law.