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Michael J. Ryan (doctor)

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Michael Ryan
Ryan speaking at ESCAIDE 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden
Michael Joseph Ryan

1965 (age 58–59)
Sligo, Ireland
EducationM.P.H, MB BCh BAO
Alma materNUI Galway
University College Dublin
Health Protection Agency
Occupation(s)Doctor and Executive Director, Health Emergencies Programme (WHO)
Years active1990–present

Michael Joseph Ryan[1] (born 1965) is an Irish epidemiologist and former trauma surgeon, specialising in infectious disease and public health. He is executive director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme, leading the team responsible for the international containment and treatment of COVID-19.[2][3] Ryan has held leadership positions and has worked on various outbreak response teams in the field to eradicate the spread of diseases including bacillary dysentery, cholera, Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever, Ebola, Marburg virus disease, measles, meningitis, relapsing fever, Rift Valley fever, SARS, and Shigellosis.[4][5]

Early life and education


Mike Ryan is from the townland of Curry, near Tubbercurry, in County Sligo, Ireland.[6] He grew up in the town of Charlestown in County Mayo.[4] His father worked as a merchant sailor.[1]

Ryan trained in medicine at the National University of Ireland in Galway.[1] He received training in orthopaedics in Scotland.[1] Ryan has a Masters of Public Health (1992) from University College Dublin. He later completed specialist training in communicable disease control, public health and infectious disease at the Health Protection Agency in London. Ryan also completed the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET).[2][4]

In 2021, Ryan was awarded UCD Alumnus of the Year in Health and Agriculture Sciences.[7]



Early career


In July 1990, Ryan moved to Iraq with his girlfriend, later his wife, to train Iraqi doctors. Very shortly after his arrival the Invasion of Kuwait happened, which suspended his work and meant he and his wife were made to work as doctors under captivity, often working under duress. A military convoy ran a vehicle Ryan was in off the road, crushing multiple vertebrae.[1][8] Eventually Ryan and his wife were allowed to leave Iraq due to their injuries. Ryan's severe back injury prohibited him from working as a surgeon. He made a shift into the fields of public health and infectious disease.[1][3][9]

Ryan worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on their efforts to stamp out infectious diseases in Africa.[10]

Career at WHO


In 1996, Ryan joined the World Health Organization to work in a newly opened unit that focused on epidemics and infectious diseases under the direction of the infectious disease expert, David L. Heymann.[1][2] He developed measles outbreak response guidelines as part of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) team who implemented surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis, which is how polio is eradicated.[4]

From 2000 to 2003, Ryan was coordinator of Epidemic Response at the WHO.[2] In 2001, he was based in Uganda where he was head of a team of international experts involved in the containment of the Ebola epidemic.[11] During this time, he was in areas of conflict like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where aid workers were often attacked and murdered.[8] In 2003, he also worked as an Operational Coordinator on the SARS outbreak.[2]

From 2005 to 2011, Ryan was Director of Global Alert and Response Operations for the WHO.[2] During this time he worked on the development of the WHO's Strategic Health Operations Centre and Event Management System. He worked on the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR), among other duties to do with infectious disease and emergency responses to pathogens and epidemics.[4]

In 2011, Ryan left the WHO and returned to Galway, Ireland, to work on the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, where he worked until 2017 and re-joined the WHO.[1][3]

In the early days of the Ebola crisis, Ryan was a field epidemiologist, field coordinator, operational coordinator or director during the majority of the reported Ebola outbreaks in Africa. From 2014 to 2015, he served as a senior advisor to the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in West Africa. He worked in the field in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.[4]

From 2013 to 2017, Ryan worked in the Middle East as Senior Advisor on Polio Eradication and Emergencies for the World Health Organization's Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).[4] The goal was to eradicate polio from Pakistan and Afghanistan.[5] He coordinated operational and technical support to polio outbreak response activities in the region which included Syria and Iraq. In 2014, Director General Margaret Chan appointed Ryan to the WHO Advisory Group on the Ebola Virus Disease Response, which was co-chaired by Sam Zaramba and David L. Heymann.[12] During this time he was based in Islamabad, Pakistan at the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), where he liaised with the Government of Pakistan.[4]

From 2017 to 2019, Ryan served as Assistant Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response in WHO's Health Emergencies Programme.[2] In 2019, he was part of the leadership that created the Global Preparedness Report for the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB).[5]

In 2019, Ryan became Executive Director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme replacing Peter Salama in an internal reshuffle.[2][13] He delivered remarks via pre-recorded video to participants of Event 201, a pandemic preparedness exercise held in October 2019 by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Economic Forum.[14]

As part of his work with the World Health Organization, Ryan appears in regular press conferences by the WHO regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.[15] Ryan has provided answers to common questions about strategies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and find a vaccine. Based on his experience in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Ebola, Ryan has said that while physical distancing, lock-downs, and movement restrictions will stop the spread of COVID-19, eradicating the virus will require large scale public health interventions with a focus on the central tenets of containment: community-based surveillance, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.[16]

Since 2022, Ryan has been chairing the Technical Advisory Panel of the joint World Bank/WHO Pandemic Fund.[17]

In addition to his activities at WHO, Ryan has worked as a Professor of International Health at University College Dublin. He has taught and lectured on medicine and public health on the undergraduate and post graduate level.[4]

Other activities




On 5 January 2022, Ryan received an award from Irish President Michael D. Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin in recognition of his "enormous service to global public health over the course of a number of decades."[19]

Personal life


In 1988, Ryan met his wife, Máire Connolly, in medical school in Galway. They were married in 1997.[20] Connolly is also a doctor and author who has specialized in infectious disease by training and also worked at the World Health Organization.[1][11][21] She is a professor of health security and infectious disease at National University of Ireland Galway.[22] They have three children.[1]

Ryan is based in Geneva, Switzerland.[23]

Selected works and publications


See also

  • Tedros Adhanom – Ethiopian public health official (born 1965)
  • Bruce Aylward – Canadian physician and epidemiologist
  • Maria Van Kerkhove – American infectious disease epidemiologist
  • Ibrahima Socé Fall – Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response at the World Health Organization (WHO)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Branswell, Helen (2019-10-30). "The World Health Organization's emergencies chief is put to the test". STAT.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "WHO Headquarters Leadership Team: Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 2019-04-18. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  3. ^ a b c Cullen, Paul (2020-02-02). "Irishman leading WHO response to coronavirus outbreak optimistic". The Irish Times.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "About WHO: Dr Michael J Ryan, Senior Advisor, Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), National Emergency Operations Centre, Islamabad, Pakistan". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 2020-03-11. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  5. ^ a b c Patnaik, Priti (2020-03-12). "Q&A: How countries in crisis can prepare for a coronavirus epidemic". The New Humanitarian.
  6. ^ McCarrick, Roger (2020-02-11). "Corona Virus". The Sligo Champion.
  7. ^ "UCD graduate who co-developed COVID-19 vaccine honoured at 2021 UCD Alumni Awards". www.ucd.ie. Retrieved 2022-09-02.
  8. ^ a b "Taking risks to provide care in a conflict zone". World Health Organization. 2019-05-22.
  9. ^ "Sligoman leads the fight against global spread of coronavirus". Ocean FM (Ireland). 2020-02-05.
  10. ^ Murray, Eavan (2020-03-17). "How a former trauma surgeon from Ireland is leading global fight against coronavirus". Irish Independent.
  11. ^ a b Feehan, Conor (2001-01-13). "Hero doctor returns from fighting Ebola virus". Irish Independent.
  12. ^ "WHO: Members of the WHO Advisory Group on the Ebola Virus Disease Response". World Health Organization. September 2015. Archived from the original on 2014-11-28.
  13. ^ Green, Andrew (2020). "Peter Salama". The Lancet. 395 (10223): 490. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30298-1.
  14. ^ "Event 201 videos including discussions and a highlights reel". Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. 2019-11-04. Archived from the original on 2023-02-14. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  15. ^ "COVID-19 – Virtual Press conference 18 March, 2020" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2020-03-18.
  16. ^ Jamjoom, Mohammed; Ryan, Mike (2020-03-27). "Talk to AlJazeera: WHO's Dr Mike Ryan: Coronavirus vaccine 'at least a year' away". Al Jazeera.
  17. ^ Pandemic Fund: The Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) World Bank.
  18. ^ CEPI Board membership updates Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), press release of 5 April 2023.
  19. ^ Deering, Paul (2022-01-05). "Sligo born WHO chief Ryan honoured by President Higgins". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2022-01-05.
  20. ^ Altman, Lawrence K. (2005-01-04). "From a Far Continent, Victims' Needs Beckon. But So Does Her Family". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "Team at PANDEM – Pandemic Risk and Emergency Management EU: Coordinator Prof. Máire Connolly (NUIG)". PANDEM. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  22. ^ Nicholson, Craig (2020-03-27). "Pandemic expert calls for action now against future outbreaks". Research Professional News.
  23. ^ McGreal, Edwin (2020-03-10). "Charlestown man at heart of worldwide fight against coronavirus". The Mayo News.