Bruce Aylward is an Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Aylward comes from Canada and is a noted physician and epidemiologist. Being an expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Aylward has dealt with the large-scale infectious disease and public health outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies in his almost three-decades-long career. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Bruce Aylward led the WHO-China joint mission on COVID-19.
Bruce Aylward was born in 1962 (age 58 years; as in 2020) in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. THE STAR While growing up in Atlantic Canada, he attended Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) where he studied medicine. His desire to become a surgeon led him to move to Uganda in 1984 where he got an opportunity to work in a hospital for six months. In 1985, Dr. Aylward received his MD degree. After studying internal medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, he attended the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicin where he received a diploma in tropical medicine. Later, Dr. Aylward went to John Hopkins University to pursue a master’s degree in public health. MUN
Height (approx.): 5′ 10″
Hair Color: Extra Light Ash Blond
Eye Color: Moss Green
Family & Ethnicity
A Haligonian woman and her lawyer husband raised Bruce Aylward who was among the six children raised by them. Bruce Aylward’s wife, Elisa Rapiti is an Italian cancer researcher. They got married in Geneva, and have a son named Nico (born in 2000). THE STAR
After joining the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1992, Dr. Bruce Aylward went on to lead various flagship programs of WHO, such as immunization, communicable disease, and polio eradication in various countries; including Europe, Middle, East, Western Pacific, North Africa, and Central and Southeast Asia.
In 1993, he landed in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh to organize the country’s first mass immunization campaign against polio, which was in its fifth year at that time. Chris Maher, a WHO epidemiologist who worked with Aylward in Phnom Penh, recalled their Cambodia experience in an interview, he said,
Cambodia was a pretty messed up place. So many people had been killed by the Khmer Rouge and it was still a very active conflict. Aylward showed up in Cambodia and hit the ground “running around all over the place.” He’s like the Energizer Bunny. Someone presses the on button and he just rattles around until the batteries run out. He’s very capable of working very, very long hours in a day, and still producing quality work.”
In 1998, Dr. Aylward was asked by the WHO to return to Geneva and join the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The UN health agency, along with UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Rotary International, was spearheading the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at that time. Although Bruce Aylward agreed to return to Geneva, it was on his own terms. In an interview, while talking about the polio eradication campaign, he said,
There was no way the world was going to stop transmission by the end of 2000. But you know, you couldn’t say that. My goal was to make sure that by the year 2000 every country in the world had started eradication programs.”
Under Dr. Aylward’s leadership, the polio eradication campaign became a success, and behind this success, there was a pragmatic approach taken by Dr. Ayward, including a significant increase in his staff in Geneva from four people to dozens and swelling up his field team from about 80 to 2,500 members. These pragmatic efforts by Dr. Aylward and his team brought polio to its knees. In an interview, while talking about the fight against polio, Dr. Aylward said,
It’s about equity. It’s about social justice and making sure every kid’s got a better shot at a better future. The day you walk away is the day you say some kids aren’t worth it.”
Before working with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to lead a newly established Change Management Unit (from 2013 to 2015), Dr. Aylward had led the inter-agency process that went on to become the first-ever system-wide activation procedures for major infectious disease emergencies.
From September 2014 through July 2016, Dr. Bruce Aylward served as Special Representative of the Director-General for the Ebola Response and gave strategic and technical leadership to the United Nations Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER).
From 2011 through 2016, Dr. Aylward worked with the WHO’s preparedness, readiness, and response to humanitarian emergencies where he managed a comprehensive restructuring of WHO’s work in humanitarian emergencies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Bruce Aylward led the WHO-China joint mission on COVID-19.
In an interview, he put forth his views on the COVID-9 pandemic and said,
Never, never underestimate a new disease, there’s just too much unknown. What we do know is it will kill young people, it will make young people sick in large numbers. You’ve gotta respect this.” TIME
Taiwan Interview Controversy
On March 28, 2020, when the Journalist Yvonne Tong of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) interviewed Dr. Aylward through Skype and asked him about Taiwan’s membership status at the WHO, he dodged the question. When the journalist repeated her question, Dr. Aylward first asked her to move and then terminated the call. When the journalist called him back, Dr. Aylward formally ended the interview. RTHK This interview attracted huge criticism for both Dr. Aylward and the WHO on the pretext of favoring the Chinese government. In popular media, the WHO was accused of “carrying China’s water.” FOX NEWS
Summoned by the Parliament of Canada
In April 2020, the Parliament of Canada issued a summon against Dr. Bruce Aylward and asked him to mark his attendance at Ottawa. In a unanimous vote by the Commons health committee of the Parliament of Canada, Dr. Aylward was called to appear before the committee. Don Davies, NDP health critic, while talking about Dr. Aylward in an interview, said,
Clearly he has been willing, and the WHO has been willing, to make Dr. Aylward available to answer questions to the media so I don’t see any principled reason why they would not make [him] available to this committee to answer similar questions.” The Globe and Mail
Awards & Honors
- He was recognized as one of Canada’s Nation Builders of 2002 by The Globe and Mail and the Dominion Institute.
- He became the first winner of the Memorial University Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement in 2002.
- Before getting married to his Italian girlfriend, Elisa Rapiti, he dated her for a few years in at least 20 different countries. THE STAR
- It was Dr. Ian Bowmer, former dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland who had aroused his interest in infectious diseases. MUN
- During his stint with the worldwide polio eradication campaign, Dr. Aylward leveraged the help of young MBA graduates and communications specialists, and he also attracted on boards many major funders, like the Gates Foundation and the UN Foundation. THE STAR
- From December 2015 through July 2016, he led the design and implementation of far-reaching reforms of WHO’s work in emergencies and brought the most substantive reform in the WHO’s 68-year history by launching a new WHO Health Emergencies Programme. WHO
- Dr. Bruce Aylward is also the author of over 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles and book chapters. WHO
- He has appeared in a few TEDx shows, and his speech on the Ebola response at TEDx became very popular.
- It was Dr. Bruce Aylward who first gave the idea of “isolation, contact tracing, and testing” to contain the spread of the COVID-19.