U.S., Canada, Mexico adopt new policy for health emergencies

The U.S., Canada and Mexico adopted a new set of principles and guidelines on Tuesday related to how the countries' governments will share public information and communications during health emergencies of mutual interest.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Rona Ambrose, Canada's minister of health; and Mercedes Juan, Mexico's secretary of health, signed a declaration of intent during the 67th World Health Assembly in Geneva. The declaration formally adopted the information sharing principles and guidelines.

"The United States, Canada and Mexico have had a long and close relationship in supporting and improving our collective ability to respond to public health events and emergencies of mutual interest when they arise," Sebelius said. "This declaration reinforces our joint efforts to strengthen our national capabilities to communicate effectively with our respective populations."

The declaration of intent called on the three countries to share public communications plans, statements and other communication products related to health emergencies with each other before they are released to the public.

"Infectious diseases are not limited by countries' borders, and neither are the ways through which we receive the news," Ambrose said. "This declaration will help our countries work together on the essential task of communicating more effectively on public health issues, which will protect the health of all of our citizens."

The declaration also requires the countries to apprise appropriate authorities within their respective governments when the declaration is invoked, conduct a short communications exercise annually and hold recurrent meetings to review and propose amendments to the declaration.

"The collaboration between the three North American countries has proved to be an extraordinary contribution to strengthening the security of health in the region," Juan said. "The clear, transparent and timely exchange of information has been, and will remain, a central pillar of this cooperation, particularly for responding to public health emergencies."

The declaration supports the requirements of the International Health Regulations and the underlying principles of the 2012 North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza.