About WHO

Dr Michael J Ryan

Senior Advisor, Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), National Emergency Operations Centre, Islamabad, Pakistan


Dr Michael Ryan has been at the forefront of managing acute risks to global health for nearly 20 years. He has a track record of leadership and innovation in tackling epidemics and other public health emergencies.

He is Irish and is working for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) as a Senior Advisor on Polio Eradication and Emergencies. He is currently based in Pakistan at the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) in support of the Government of Pakistan. Pakistan is the main reservoir of polio left in the world and where currently a major surge of national and international effort is underway to eradicate this disease.

Dr Ryan was a field epidemiologist, field coordinator, operational coordinator or director responsible in 12 of the 17 recorded Ebola outbreaks globally before the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014. From November 2014 to February 2015, he was Senior Advisor to UNMEER in West Africa, spending most of his mission in the field in the three worst affected countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea). He is also a Member of the WHO Informal Advisory Group on the Ebola Virus Disease Response.

From November 2013 to October 2014 he worked with GPEI as Middle East Polio Response Coordinator. His duties included overall coordination of operational and technical support to polio outbreak response activities in eight target countries including Syria and Iraq. The activities of the countries and technical partners such as WHO, UNICEF, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNHCR, the US Institute of Medicine, and non-governmental organizations reached 25 million children repeatedly in the eight target countries over the period in 44 mass polio vaccination campaigns utilizing over 140 million doses of polio vaccine. This has been achieved in the context of terrible conflict that has collapsed health infrastructures and driven millions from their homes.

Dr Ryan is also Professor of International Health at University College Dublin, Ireland and is involved in teaching and lecturing both undergraduates in medicine and post graduates in the Masters of Public Health Programme and other post graduate programmes.

Previously until 2011, he was Director of Global Alert and Response at WHO in Geneva.

His background is in medicine, infectious disease and public health. He completed medical training at the National University of Ireland, Galway and his Masters in Public Health at University College Dublin, followed by specialist training in public health and infectious disease at the Health Protection Agency in London and with the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET).

Dr Ryan joined WHO in 1996 when WHO established a unit to respond to emerging and epidemic disease threats. During his time at WHO, Dr Ryan has led numerous outbreak response teams to difficult field situations for diseases such as Ebola, meningitis, cholera, measles, bacillary dysentery, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Rift Valley fever and relapsing fever. He also worked with the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), developing measles outbreak response guidelines and was part of the team who implemented surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis—a cornerstone of polio eradication.

He became Coordinator of WHO’s Epidemic Response Team in 2000 and worked to implement WHO’s epidemic intelligence, verification and response mechanisms. He was the conceiver of, and a founding member of, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) that has been utilized in over 150 international outbreak responses. He was Operational Coordinator of WHO’s response to the SARS outbreak of 2003. He was appointed Director of Alert and Response Operations in 2004 with responsibility for the further development and implementation of the global response to epidemics and other public health emergencies and development of WHO’s Strategic Health Operations Centre and Event Management System.

In 2005, Dr Ryan was appointed as Director of Global Alert and Response at WHO Headquarters. This role included management of WHO’s alert and response operations, epidemic preparedness and mass intervention, biosecurity, communicable disease control in emergencies/disasters, emerging and dangerous pathogens, infection prevention and control, influenza and implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

Dr Ryan served Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for WHO Health Emergencies Programmes from 5 May 2016 to 24 May 2017.