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Charlestown man at heart of worldwide fight against coronavirus


Edwin McGreal

A Charlestown man is one of the leading figures in the worldwide fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
Dr Mike Ryan is the Executive Director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme.
Dr Ryan grew up in Curry just over the Sligo/Mayo border and the family subsequently moved to Main Street, Charlestown. His mother, Meta, still lives on Main Street, Charlestown. Dr Ryan has been one of the most vocal speakers worldwide on the coronavirus, in his role with the WHO.
He was promoted to the role in 2019 and finds himself at the heart of combating a global crisis.
In an interview with The Irish Times in February, Dr Ryan described himself as ‘the old dog for the road’. It’s easy to see why – the same report revealed he’s a veteran of viral firefights with many worrying threats such as Sars, Ebola and bird flu.
In the course of his career he’s been held hostage in Iraq, buried bodies to stop the contagion of disease in west Africa and faced down guns far too frequently, including at the operating table.
Aged 55, Ryan is based in Geneva, at the WHO Headquarters. Speaking yesterday (Monday) at a press conference on the burgeoning problem, Dr Ryan said the coronavirus is getting close to being called a pandemic. He said there is no clear threshold for a pandemic but that it is considered to mean the worldwide spread of a new disease.  
“We’re reaching that point, and when you reach 100 countries, and when you reach 100,000 cases, it is time to step back and think,” he said.
He added that, unlike the flu, countries can control the outbreak. He pointed to slowing cases in China as evidence of that and has praised the actions of the Chinese government.
“The word (pandemic) for us is not a problem,” Ryan said. “The issue is what the reaction to the word will be. Will the reaction to the word be, ‘Let’s fight? Let’s push? Let’s push this disease back?’ Or will the reaction to the word be, ‘Let’s give up’.”
Dr Ryan first joined the WHO in 1996, with the newly established unit to respond to emerging and epidemic disease threats.
On their website, the WHO say Dr Ryan has ‘been at the forefront of managing acute risks to global health for nearly 25 years’.
Prior to his current role, he served as Assistant Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response in WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme from 2017 to 2019.
In his career he has worked in conflict affected countries and led many responses to high impact epidemics. He completed medical training at the National University of Ireland, Galway, a Masters in Public Health at University College Dublin, and specialist training in communicable disease control at the Health Protection Agency in London and the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training.