Mike Ryan Announced as New WHO Deputy Director General
Dr Mike Ryan helps attend to a health worker wounded in an attack in January 2019 against the Ebola vaccination team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The group, including Dr Tedros, were being evacuated by helicopter at the time.

The new Deputy Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) is Dr Mike Ryan, who will assume the position alongside his current post as the executive director of Health Emergencies, Preparedness and Response.

Ryan, who succeeds Zsuzsanna Jakab, who retired in February, assumed the position on 1 April according to an internal staff communique send out last Thursday.

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyusus announced the appointment publicly on Monday at an event at the WHO headquarters, describing Ryan as “the general” and a “soldier”, and thanking him “for all his sacrifices”.

In 1990, Ryan, an Irish epidemiologist who trained as a trauma surgeon, went to work in a hospital Iraq that was being supported by the College of Surgeons in Ireland, supposedly for three months while he waited for his surgical residency to begin in Australia.

However, during that time, “Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, and we all became hostages in Baghdad”, said Ryan an interview with ‘Awake at Night’, a UN podcast series. Tragically, during this time he was injured in an accident involving a military convoy and stuck in Iraq with minimal treatment. This ended his career as a surgeon, resulting in him switching to infectious diseases.

“It was very clear to me that you were either a surgeon or a good infectious disease doctor because these seemed to be the two things [where] a doctor could make a difference in many developing country environments. So I went into infectious diseases and then ended up coming to WHO In 1996, to join David Heymann, who was setting up a new emerging disease programme in WHO,” Ryan explains. 

During this time, he worked on responses to a number of outbreaks including measles, Ebola (while based in Uganda), and other infectious diseases. Between 2011 and 2017, he worked on the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East.

From 2017 to 2019, Ryan served as Assistant Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response in WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

In 2019, Ryan became Executive Director of Health Emergencies Programme, and one of the WHO’s public faces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image Credits: Lindsay Mackenzie/ WHO.

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