Law Library Stacks

Back to Legal Responses to Health Emergencies

Summary

Mexico’s system for managing public health emergencies is mainly administered by the nation’s General Health Council (GHC) and the federal Department of Health (DOH).  The GHC has the authority to issue orders that classify communicable diseases that may cause a health emergency as serious threats and subject them to epidemiological monitoring, prevention, and control mechanisms.  The DOH has the responsibility to monitor serious communicable diseases listed by law, as well as diseases classified as serious threats by the GHC, to detect and control outbreaks.  In cases of actual or potential grave outbreaks of communicable diseases, the DOH has the power to order immediate and appropriate measures to prevent and contain damages to public health, with approval from Mexico’s President.  Furthermore, the DOH must notify to the World Health Organization of all measures taken in order to address matters related to international health and of any incidence of diseases that may cause an outbreak.  Mexico recently signed a Declaration of Intent with the US and Canada on how these countries will exchange public information in times of a health emergency of common interest.

I.  Structure of Public Health Crisis Management System

Mexico is a federal republic formed by thirty-one states and a Federal District.  Mexico’s system for managing public health emergencies is primarily managed by the nation’s General Health Council (GHC) and federal Department of Health (DOH), with support from state governments.

The GHC reports directly to Mexico’s President and has broad powers on health matters of national importance, including the authority to issue orders that classify communicable diseases that may cause a health emergency as serious threats and subject them to epidemiological monitoring, prevention, and control mechanisms.[1]  

The GHC is headed by the Secretary of the DOH, and is comprised of high-ranking government officials (including secretaries and executives from federal and state government departments) and executives from private health institutions, nongovermental organizations, and industry associations.[2]

The DOH has responsibility for establishing and operating the National System for Epidemiological Surveillance (Sistema Nacional de Vigilancia Epidemiológica, SINAVE), which monitors serious communicable diseases listed by law, as well as diseases classified as serious threats by the GHC, in order to detect and control outbreaks.[3]

SINAVE is comprised of an extensive national network of health surveillance units (over 20,000 as of May 2014) operating in all public and private health institutions, which monitor and report relevant information on health developments to a central unit managed by DOH’s Directorate of Epidemiology (DOE).[4]

The DOE processes this information and prepares reports and health alerts as necessary, which are used to plan and implement appropriate responses.[5]

Back to Top

II.  Powers of Public Health Authorities

A.  Powers to Control Communicable Diseases

Mexico’s General Law on Health provides that certain communicable diseases listed in the law (such as epidemic influenza, viral hepatitis, and AIDS), as well as diseases classified as serious threats by the GHC (such as the Ebola virus, as explained in Part V of this report), are subject to prevention and control measures executed by the DOH and state governments in their respective jurisdictions, with support from other federal government agencies and private health institutions and individuals.[6]

Outbreaks of these diseases must be notified immediately to the DOH, which has at its disposal a number of powers to monitor and control such outbreaks, including

  • confirmation of the disease by available clinical means;
  • temporary isolation of sick individuals, as well as those who are expected to become sick;
  • administration of vaccines and other preventive and therapeutic resources;
  • decontamination of areas, living quarters, clothing, utensils, and other objects exposed to viral, parasitic, or microbial contamination;
  • inspection of travelers suspected of being infected, as well as their luggage and other belongings that may be contaminated;
  • temporary closure of establishments or gathering locations of any kind; and
  • requesting appropriate support from civilian and military authorities, as well as from private individuals, as needed.[7]

B.  Department of Health Powers in Health Emergencies

In cases of actual or potential grave outbreaks of communicable diseases, the DOH has the power to order immediate and appropriate measures to prevent and contain damage to public health, including

  • issuing sanitary measures governing departures and arrivals of individuals from population centers;
  • regulating ground, maritime, and air traffic;
  • instructing federal, state, and local authorities and health professionals to support emergency measures, and requiring cooperation from private entities and individuals as necessary; 
  • using, freely and with priority, radio and television air time, as well as telephone, mail, and telegraphic services.[8]

These urgent measures must ratified by Mexico’s President thereafter.[9]  In addition, the President may issue an executive order indicating the specific regions that are subject to emergency measures to protect public health.[10]  When the health emergency is controlled, the President must order the end of the emergency measures.[11]

Back to Top

III.  Transparency of Public Health Crisis Management System

Pursuant to applicable regulations, information generated by Mexico’s DOH through the National System for Epidemiological Surveillance (which, as explained above, monitors developments concerning communicable diseases) must be disseminated through reports available electronically and in print in a way that facilitates accessibility to the data contained therein.[12]  Consistent with this requirement, a wide variety of data concerning events related to communicable diseases is publicly available on the website of the DOH’s Directorate of Epidemiology.[13]

With respect to recent measures adopted by the Mexican government concerning the Ebola virus, the DOH provides comprehensive information on this topic on a website that includes general information for citizens and technical information for experts.[14]

At the international level, Mexico recently signed a Declaration of Intent with the United States and Canada that provides principles and guidelines concerning how these countries will exchange public information in the event of a health emergency of common interest.[15]  Specifically, the Declaration provides that these countries intend to share with each other plans and statements concerning health emergencies prior to their release to the public.[16]

Back to Top

IV.  Cooperation with the WHO

Mexico is signatory to the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR), which are aimed at helping the international community respond to and prevent severe global public health risks, and provide that signatory countries must report to the World Health Organization (WHO) information concerning certain public health events and outbreaks.[17]

Consistent with the IHR, Mexico’s General Law on Health provides that the DOH must notify the WHO about all measures taken in order to address matters related to international health (particularly measures aimed at restricting the transit of persons or cargo due to sanitary reasons), and must also provide information on any case of diseases listed in the IHR that may cause an outbreak.[18]

Back to Top

V.  Recent Developments

As of mid-November 2014, no cases of individuals infected with the Ebola virus have been reported in Mexico.  However, the Mexican government recently issued guidelines applicable to the treatment of this disease.  Specifically, on October 23, 2014, Mexico’s GHC issued a directive indicating that the Ebola virus is a matter of public health that may cause a health emergency and as a result ordered that this virus must be subject to epidemiological surveillance, as well as to preventive measures.[19]

On October 24, 2014, Mexico’s DOH issued a set of measures aimed at controlling health risks caused by the Ebola virus.[20]  Those measures include

  • confirmation of infections caused by the Ebola virus through lab tests administered by the DOH;
  • provision of medical treatment through available means;
  • destruction of clothing and equipment utilized by personnel that transport and provide care to infected individuals and those who are suspected of infection;
  • requesting support from federal, state, and local authorities, as well as from health professionals, as needed;
  • appropriate disposal of human remains of infected individuals, in order to prevent contagion;
  • decontamination and sanitization of areas and living quarters exposed to the Ebola virus;
  • authority to utilize, freely and with priority, radio and television air time, as well as telephone, mail, and telegraphic services, in order to disseminate guidelines concerning the prevention and control of health risks caused by the Ebola virus;
  • authority to regulate ground, maritime, and air traffic;
  • authority to request necessary support from international organizations;
  • authority to locate and order the quarantine or observation of healthy individuals who have had contact with individuals infected with the Ebola virus;
  • acquisition from national or international sources of medical equipment, diagnostic tools, surgical and medical supplies, and any other type of supplies and services necessary to implement measures aimed at controlling health risks caused by the Ebola virus; and
  • authority to build and remodel health facilities as necessary.[21]

On October 24, 2014, Mexico’s President issued an executive order ratifying these measures.[22]

Prepared by Gustavo Guerro
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
February 2015



[1] Reglamento Interior del Consejo de Salubridad General [Regulation of the General Health Council ] arts. 1, 9(XVII), Diario Oficial de la Federación [D.O.], Dec. 11, 2009.  See also Consejo de Salubridad General, Acuerdo mediante el cual se determina que la enfermedad transmisible por el virus del Ébola, debe estar sujeta a vigilancia epidemiológica, prevención y control en términos de lo dispuesto por el artículo 134, fracción XIV, de la Ley General de Salud [Order that Determines that the Ebola Virus Must Be Subject to Epidemiological Surveillance, as well as to Prevention and Control Measures], D.O., Oct. 23, 2014.

[2] Reglamento Interior del Consejo de Salubridad General, supra note 1, arts. 3, 4.

[3] Ley General de Salud [General Law of Health], as amended through June 2014, arts. 133(II), 134, D.O., Feb. 7, 1984, available on the website of Mexico’s House of Representatives, at http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/ pdf/142_040614.pdf.

[4] Información Epidemiologica [Epidemiological Information],Secretaría de Salud, Direccion General de Epidemiologia [Department of Health, Directorate of Epidemiology], http://www.epidemiologia.salud. gob.mx/dgae/infoepid/intd_informacion.html (last updated May 2014).  See also Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-017-SSA2-2012, Para la vigilancia epidemiológica [Mexican Health Standard NOM-017-SSA2-2012, for Epidemiological Surveillance], D.O., Feb. 19, 2013.

[5] Id.

[6] Ley General de Salud arts. 134, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141.  See also Acuerdo mediante el cual se determina que la enfermedad transmisible por el virus del Ébola, supra note 1.

[7] Ley General de Salud arts. 139, 147, 151, 152.

[8] Id. arts. 181, 184.

[9] Id. art. 181.

[10] Id. art. 183.

[11] Id.

[12] Secretaría de Salud, Direccion General de Epidemiologia, supra note 4.  See also Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-017-SSA2-2012, supra note 4, § 10.

[13] Secretaría de Salud, Direccion General de Epidemiologia, supra note 4.

[14] Todo Sobre el ébola, Secretaría de Salud, http://todosobreelebola.com/ (last visited Nov. 10, 2014).

[15] Press Release, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), United States, Canada and Mexico Strengthen Information Sharing in Health Emergencies (May 20, 2014), http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/ 2014pres/05/20140520a.html; Declaration of Intent to Coordinate Health Emergency Public Communications Between the Department of Health and Human Services of the United States of America, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Secretariat of Health of the United Mexican States (May 20, 2014), available at http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/05/wha-declaration-us-canada-mexico-en.pdfSee also Gustavo Guerra, Mexico; United States; Canada: Agreement on Health Emergencies,Global Legal Monitor (July 2, 2014), http://www.loc.gov/lawweb/servlet/lloc_news?disp3_l205404053_text.

[16] Press Release, HHS, supra note 15; Declaration of Intent to Coordinate Health Emergency Public Communications, supra note 15; see also Guerra, supra note 15.

[17] Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-017-SSA2-2012, supra note 4;WHO, International Health Regulations (2d ed. 2005), http://www.who.int/ihr/publications/9789241596664/en/.

[18] Ley General de Salud art. 359.  See also Reglamento de la Ley General de Salud en Materia de Sanidad Internacional [Regulation of General Law on Health on International Health] art. 14, D.O., Feb. 18, 1985.

[19] Acuerdo mediante el cual se determina que la enfermedad transmisible por el virus del Ébola, supra note 1. 

[20] Secretaria de Salud, Acuerdo por el que se establecen las medidas preventivas que se deberán implementar para la vigilancia epidemiológica, prevención, control y combate de los riesgos para la salud que implica la Enfermedad por el Virus del Ébola [Order Issued by the DOH Establishing Preventive Measures that Must Be Implemented for the Epidemiological Surveillance, Prevention, Control and Combat of Health Risks of the Disease Caused by the Ebola Virus], D.O., Oct. 24, 2014.

[21] Id.

[22] Decreto por el que se Sanciona el Acuerdo por el que se establecen las medidas preventivas que se deberán implementar para la vigilancia epidemiológica, prevención, control y combate de los riesgos para la salud que implica la Enfermedad por el Virus del Ébola [Decree Whereby Mexico’s President Ratifies the Order Issued by the DOH Establishing Preventive Measures that Must Be Implemented for the Epidemiological Surveillance, Prevention, Control and Combat to Health Risks of the Disease Caused by the Ebola Virus], D.O., Oct. 24, 2014.

Back to Top

 

Last Updated: 06/09/2015