Micheál (Mick) Ryan, an engineer with the United Nations’ World Food Programme, has been posthumously named the Humanitarian of the Year by the Irish Red Cross.
Clare man Mick Ryan was named as the winner of the award at last night’s virtual Irish Red Cross Humanitarian Awards, with his wife, Naoise Ryan, accepting the award on his behalf.
Mick, who died tragically in a plane crash in Ethiopia last year, had dedicated his life to humanitarian work overseas.
During his career, Mick worked tirelessly to ensure that vulnerable people in remote parts of the world had access to food and were protected from flooding and other disasters.
Speaking of the win, Naoise said: “This award means so much to us and my only regret is that Mick isn’t here to accept it himself, I know he would be so humbled by it. To me it’s recognition of the person that he was, he was a humanitarian in every sense of the word.
“Mick believed that engineering was about people and people were at the heart of everything that he did. From the time we met at college he really believed he could make a difference in the world and he had the skills and talent to make that happen. But really, the reason that Mick was able to achieve all that he did was because he was intuitive about people, he was able to motivate them and have them share his enthusiasm and he did it all with such fun and laughter. He had a cheeky sense of humour and he was the kindest person you could meet and I know he would be blown away by this award – and probably a little bit embarrassed too because he never liked to be the centre of attention.”
Dr. Ryan, a native of Sligo and Mayo, was brought to global attention this year thanks to his role as Executive Director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme, leading the team responsible for the international readiness and response to Covid-19.
However, his work with Covid-19 is just the tip of the iceberg in a career dedicated to eradicating infectious diseases all around the world. While training as a young doctor in NUI Galway, there was no way for Mike Ryan to know that his work would take him to some of the world’s most dangerous contexts and lead him to helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
An injury sustained in a road traffic accident in Iraq in the early 90s prohibited him from pursuing his training as a surgeon, so Dr. Ryan turned his attention toward the field of public health and infectious diseases.
In 1996 he joined the World Health Organization (WHO) in a newly formed unit that focused on emerging diseases and epidemics. He deployed to multiple countries and led responses to epidemics across the globe. Using this experience, he helped in developing new approaches and mechanisms for responding to epidemics like the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). He was appointed the Director of Global Alert and Response in 2005.
In 2013 he joined the Global Polio Eradication Initiative as a Senior Adviser and served until 2017, fighting wild polio virus epidemics in Syria, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. During this time, given his Ebola experience, he was also asked to deploy to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as Senior Advisor to the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response in West Africa.
In 2017, Dr. Ryan was appointed as Deputy Director-General to the WHO the Health Emergencies Programme and in 2019 as its Executive Director.
Speaking of Dr. Ryan’s achievements, Pat Carey, Chair of the Irish Red Cross said, “Dr. Mike Ryan has been at the forefront of managing risks to global health for almost 25 years now and his career helping the world’s most vulnerable people is an inspiration to us all.
“In what has been a difficult year for so many, the Irish Red Cross Humanitarian Awards aims to celebrate the people who have dedicated their lives in service of others and I cannot think of a more worthy recipient of this award than Dr. Ryan. As an organization the Red Cross has seen the devastating impact of Covid-19 in communities at home and abroad and I am thankful that Ireland, and the rest of the world, has had Dr. Ryan’s steadying hand at the helm during this pandemic.”
Órla Ryan is a journalist and photographer with TheJournal.ie who has a diverse body of work highlighting humanitarian topics from all over the world.
From travelling to Kenya to report on women’s rights issues such as child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to interviewing people in Lebanon about their experience in refugee camps, Órla’s work focuses on capturing the unheard voices of people who are living in the midst of humanitarian crises. Closer to home, Órla has also reported on the experience of asylum seekers living in Direct Provision.
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