Covid-19 toll on mental health to be felt ‘for many years’

World Health Organisation’s Mike Ryan honoured by Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Doctors and scientists need to get better at translating science into knowledge that people need, said Mike Ryan. File photograph: EPA

Doctors and scientists need to get better at translating science into knowledge that people need, said Mike Ryan. File photograph: EPA

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The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on mental health “has not been counted yet” but will have an effect “for many years to come”, the World Health Organisation’s Dr Mike Ryan has said.

Addressing a webinar hosted by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) today, Dr Ryan will call for mental health to be a “pillar” of the recovery from the pandemic so that people can be supported to have resilience to face what may come in the future.

The executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme will speak at the event about the importance of sharing information and countering disinformation so that communities will be equipped to be the front line of defence at times of public health crisis.

Doctors and scientists need to get better at translating science into knowledge that people need, said Dr Ryan, a 25-year veteran of the WHO.

The public health and infectious diseases specialist will be awarded the inaugural Sir Charles A Cameron Award for Population health by the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences in recognition of his global leadership during the pandemic.

The award marks the centenary of the death of Cameron, a leading public health doctor in Victorian Dublin and the City of Dublin’s superintendent medical officer of health.

The former president of the RCSI helped reduce Dublin’s mortality by pressing for the demolition of slum housing and construction of new homes, sanitation and water supply systems.

Cameron’s department posted notices on placards around Dublin with public health warnings. He was also quoted in newspapers directing that theatres, schools and places of “public amusement” be closed for public health reasons to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Past and present

Speaking during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, he was quoted in The Irish Times as saying: “If the public would only wake up to the seriousness of the condition of things and avoid meeting in crowds, the risk of spreading the infection might be minimised.”

Accepting the award from the RCSI, Dr Ryan said that the link between Cameron’s experience and this pandemic is relevant.

“He shows us why it is so important to stand up as advocates for the undermining determinants of health,” said Dr Ryan.

“This award is a huge personal honour to me. I accept it on behalf of Irish people working at home and abroad in the spirit of Cameron.”

RCSI chief executive Cathal Kelly said that the college, through the award, was making explicit the connection between Cameron’s “relentless drive to improve the lives and health of the citizens of Victorian Dublin and the role of population health in the pandemic”.

He praised Dr Ryan’s dedication to “evidence-based public health and the clarity and honesty he employs with engaging with the public, which is an example for health professionals across the globe”.

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