THE World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Dr Mike Ryan met with Irish President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin today where he was presented with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award.
Born in Charlestown, Co. Mayo, Dr Ryan is Executive Director of the WHO’s Emergencies Programme in Geneva and has been at the forefront of the organisation’s efforts to battle the devastating Covid-19 pandemic that has swept across the globe over the past two years.
He is also chair of the UN Crisis Management Team - playing a pivotal role in coordinating the work of all UN agencies in responding to the pandemic - an has an unequalled record in leading successful large-scale efforts to suppress outbreaks of infectious diseases and epidemics worldwide, often in highly complex and challenging environments, including zones of conflict.
This week he met with President Higgins and his wife Sabina in their Dublin home and was presented with his award - which recognises the contribution of members of the Irish diaspora around the world.
Dr Ryan received the honour, which was first announced in 2020, in recognition of “his enormous service to global public health over the course of a number of decades”.
He was initially due to receive it at a ceremony in the Áras on December 2, 2021, but was unable to attend due to his WHO workload.
At their meeting, Dr Ryan briefed President Higgins on the WHO’s work to date to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, including the challenges posed by the Omicron outbreak, and also discussed the importance of equitable vaccine access with the President.
He went on thank the President for offering his support towards achieving the important principle of universal access to Covid-19 vaccines.
The President and Dr Ryan also discussed the facts presented at a recent press briefing by WHO Director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, which revealed figures are showing extremely low Covid-19 vaccination rates in the global south, and in Africa in particular.
“Among the very practical examples that Dr Ryan suggested where Ireland could make an immediate contribution would be perhaps in supporting the Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa through accelerating training and biomanufacturing,” a spokesperson for the President’s office confirmed.
In a statement made following their meeting, President Higgins said: “I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Dr Mike Ryan and to present him with his Presidential Distinguished Service Award.
“Dr Ryan has rendered an enormous service to global public health over many decades and in doing so has raised the reputation and standing of Ireland.
“His global leadership on this issue has made all Irish people proud, in the best possible form of contribution to global health without borders.”
Regarding his ongoing work with the WHO on the Covid-19 pandemic, President Higgins commended Dr Ryan’s “extraordinary resolve and focus, promoting the adoption of original, comprehensive and carefully planned strategies to suppress the spread of the Covid-19 virus, while balancing the need to ensure the protection of livelihoods and human rights”.
On the issue of global vaccine equity President Higgins confirmed their meeting saw them discuss the “serious concerns” they both shared on the matter.
“At today’s meeting we discussed our serious concerns regarding the importance of achieving universal and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines throughout the world.” He said.
“I said that it is my belief that this is a moral issue of the first order for us collectively, both as Europeans and as global citizens, and that Europe, not only in a practical way but also out of a sense of moral duty, should respond to the Covid-19 Technology Pool (C-TAP) launched by the WHO last year, by indicating a willingness, indeed a commitment, to overcome any obstacles that remain to participation in the fullest sense.”
He added: “If we could succeed in working together to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, it will of course provide important models for the international cooperation which will be required to overcome the other great challenges facing the world, including in ecology, climate and the environment.”