Michael J. Ryan is an Irish epidemiologist who is best known for being the Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme. He specializes in infectious disease and public health. Dr. Ryan is also known for leading various outbreak response teams to treat and contain the spread of many contagious diseases, such as measles, cholera, Ebola, and SARS. During the worldwide lockdown due to the Corona outbreak, he led an international team to eradicate and contain the spread of COVID-19.
Michael Joseph Ryan (full name) was born in 1965 (age 55 years; as in 2020) in County Sligo, Ireland. Pressreader While growing up in the townland of Curry near Tubbercurry in County Sligo, Ryan became fascinated with life science. His merchant sailor father, who spent 25 years at sea, left the world when Ryan was eleven. After completing his medical training at the National University of Ireland in Galway, Ryan did additional training in orthopedics in Scotland. Dr. Ryan also holds a Masters of Public Health from University College Dublin. After completing his specialist training in communicable disease control, public health, and infectious disease; he pursued the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET).
Family & Ethnicity
Parents & Siblings
His father, late Harry Ryan, grew up in Tubbercurry who later moved to Charlestown after his marriage. Michael J. Ryan’s mother’s name is Meta who still lives on Main Street, Charlestown. Ryan’s merchant sailor father, Harry Ryan, along with Ryan’s mother Meta, ran “The Ship Inn” in Charlestown.
Relationships, Wife & Children
Michael J. Ryan met his future wife, Máire Connolly, for the first time in 1988 in medical school in Galway. They courted for nine years and got married to each other in 1997. The New York Times Máire Connolly is also a doctor who has expertise in infectious disease, and she has also worked at the WHO. Apart from this, she was also associated with the National University of Ireland Galway as a professor. Michael J. Ryan and Máire Connolly together have three children. Katie and Sorcha are their daughters.
At the age of 23, when Ryan was ready to move to Australia for a surgical residency, his departure was delayed because of some paperwork. Thereafter, Ryan followed his then-girlfriend (now wife), Máire Connolly, to Iraq for training Iraqi doctors in specialist procedures. Ryan and Máire Connolly landed in Baghdad at the end of July 1990, and three days later, on August 2, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the U.S. bombing campaign also began, and all foreign nationals, including Ryan and Máire Connolly, got stranded in Iraq. Ryan started working at a hospital in Iraq where he treated several members of the ruling class. STAT After he returned from Iraq, Ryan tried for one more time to get a surgical fellowship in Australia; however, he was denied the fellowship. Thereafter, he decided to make a career in public health and began reading about public health. After receiving a master’s degree in public health from University College Dublin and completing a specialist training in communicable diseases, Michael J. Ryan was assigned into a training program for European epidemiologists in Sweden; however, before heading to Stockholm, Ryan met David Heymann in Geneva. David Heymann is an American infectious disease expert. David Heymann offered Ryan to work at the WHO where Heymann was setting up a new emerging diseases program. After getting a full-time job at the WHO, Dr. Ryan worked with many public health giants, like the late D.A. Henderson. While talking about his initial days at the WHO in an interview, he said,
To be sitting in a room with those individuals … for an epidemiologist it was like an audience with rock stars, you know?”
At the WHO, Dr. Ryan went on to work on various infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola, bird flu, cholera, Marburg, and SARS.
During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Dr. Ryan successfully led a team to eradicate and contain the spread of the disease. When the WHO returned to its normative standard-setting following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, Michael J. Ryan vehemently opposed the move by the WHO, but the WHO didn’t pay heed to Dr. Ryan following which, Dr. Ryan left the WHO in 2011 and joined the Global Polio Eradication Program where he worked in many countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East. In 2017, on the invitation of the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Michael J. Ryan returned to the WHO and started working as the Assistant Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response in WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme; a post that he held till 2019.
In 2019, Michael J. Ryan became the Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme; replacing Peter Salama. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ryan appeared regularly at the press conferences by the WHO along with the American epidemiologist, Maria Van Kerkhove.
- He also worked at University College Dublin as a Professor of International Health.
- He was one of the founding members of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network; a network that brought CDC and UNICEF, and Doctors Without Borders, and other nongovernmental organizations together during the time of an infectious disease outbreak or natural disaster. On the significance of this network, Dr, Ryan says,
It was based on the principle that the capacity is out there. If we put all the major institutions and put all their skills and capacities and their expertise together we have something quite special.”
- In his youth, Michael J. Ryan used to visit regularly to his grandfather who lived in Tubbercurry. His grandfather, Tom Ryan, served in the state police force of the Republic of Ireland called “Garda” in Tubbercurry through the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Pressreader
- The young Ryan also used to visit the book parlor of his grandmother where he used to read the newly arrived copy of National Geographic. In an interview, while recalling the room, which was filled with swords, flags, statues, and mementos collected by his father during his travels, Dr. Ryan said,
This room was like a kind of a TARDIS. The idea was you go into this room and all of a sudden you weren’t in this little village in the middle of the west of Ireland, you are in Honolulu. And you were in Sydney and pictures of the Opera House or whatever it was at the time.”
- During his stay in Iraq in 1990, his several vertebrae were crushed in a road accident when, on a weekend, he was going to see a lake near the border of Kurdistan along with his then-girlfriend Máire Connolly, and en route, their vehicle was run off the road by a military convoy. After the accident, Dr. Ryan spent weeks immobilized. In an interview, he recalled the incident and said,
I could feel my toes but I knew my back was fractured. As they trying to save my life, I’m trying to save my legs.”
- When Dr. Ryan joined the WHO in 1996, his then-girlfriend Máire Connolly had already joined the organization in 1995; however, on the same day of Ryan’s joining at the WHO, Máire Connolly was sent to Jakarta for six months. Connolly’s mother quoted sarcastically over it, she said,
Can’t you two ever stay in one place at the same time?”