Northwestern University Trustees and alumni Patrick G. Ryan and Shirley W. Ryan have made a historic gift to name and endow the Robert J. Havey, MD Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The Ryans’ gift will ensure that the institute has resources in perpetuity to improve the health of billions of people in low- and middle-income countries worldwide.
“It has been my great privilege to know Pat and Shirley over the years, and I am incredibly humbled and energized by their dedication to the institute’s mission. With their investment, we have a foundation to expand our work in global health to find solutions to health issues that affect more than half the world’s population,” said Robert J. Havey, ’80 MD, ’81, ’83 GME, deputy director of the Havey Institute for Global Health, clinical professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, and long-time general internist with Northwestern Medical Group.
The gift is part of a historic $480 million gift, the largest in Northwestern’s history. The Ryans’ wide-ranging philanthropy has supported athletics, research, facilities, scholarships, fellowships, and professorships in addition to this new gift to global health. Mr. Ryan is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Ryan Specialty Group, founder and former CEO of Aon Corporation, and a widely respected entrepreneur and insurance leader. Mrs. Ryan is a national leader for early detection and intervention of movement, sensory, and communication problems in infants and children. Together, the Ryans co-founded Pathways.org, which merged into the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the No. 1 U.S. rehabilitation hospital for 21 consecutive years.
“This wonderful gift from the Ryan Family supporting these five biomedical initiatives is an absolute game-changer,” said Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for medical affairs and the Lewis Landsberg Dean. “It is imaginative support like this that accelerates the pace of discovery for some of society’s most important health issues. We are very grateful for their commitment to the science in medicine.”
Evolving Into Global Health Leaders
In 2008, Havey established the Global Health Initiative (GHI) to expand global health experiences for Northwestern medical students. “I thought our students needed to see what it’s like to work in low-tech environments, where you can’t just do a scan or order a test or go down the block to the pharmacy,” Havey recalled. “I felt our medical students would gain a better understanding of their own responsibilities as future physicians if they spent time in those poorly resourced areas.”
Today, Northwestern has a higher percentage of medical students going on global health rotations than any other medical school in the United States. Students come back to Chicago inspired and, in many cases, committed to pursuing primary care, an important benefit of the institute’s medical student travel program since the U.S. — and the world — faces a critical shortage of primary care physicians.
Over the years, the work of the GHI grew to include much more than student travel. In 2019, it combined forces with Northwestern’s existing Center for Global Health to form the institute, and the depth of its work grew rapidly. The new institute expanded its training programs and clinics for scientists and healthcare providers in low- and middle-income countries and funded hundreds of innovative research projects studying everything from infectious diseases like tuberculosis and the coronavirus, to global oncology, cardiology, surgery, and pathogen genomics.
“We know that billions of people have no access to basic primary care or modern surgical, pediatric, oncologic, or obstetric care,” Havey said. “This is far more than a humanitarian crisis. It’s also a threat to the global economy and to the social stability of the world. People who have poor health often become prematurely disabled. They become unable to work and provide for their families and communities, perpetuating a cycle of illness and poverty that is almost impossible to escape.”
Havey said he believes that the institute’s work in training and building infrastructure for healthcare will give citizens a chance at better lives. While other organizations visit developing countries to provide temporary or one-off care, the institute prioritizes sustainable and scalable efforts that can lead to improved health outcomes for entire populations over the long term.
The institute has programs in low- and middle-income countries to train local students and scientists in biomedical engineering, epidemiology and basic medical research so they can help their own communities build modern healthcare systems. These newly trained physicians and scientists can make scientific discoveries that benefit people all over the world.
Institute members have many other projects in the works around the world: In India and Nigeria, they are teaching clinicians how to identify and treat hypertension and testing polypills to make it easier for people with low literacy to manage multiple medications. In Rwanda, they are teaching surgeons how to prevent, diagnose and repair obstetric fistulas. In Nigeria, they are studying resistant tuberculosis. The institute has also partnered with universities around the world to help eliminate preventable neonatal mortality in eight low-income countries by the year 2030. And throughout Africa, they are studying the development of COVID-19 variants. In fact, the institute’s Center for Pathogen Genomics isolated one of the first known variants of the virus in March of 2020, when the pandemic had just begun.
Philanthropy Fuels Growth, and Impact on Humanity
“Advancing scientific discovery, especially in human health, has been a longstanding priority for our family,” Shirley Ryan said. “Northwestern’s world-class scientists and innovative and interdisciplinary approach to research have tremendous potential to advance treatments and tools that can improve the lives of people in the U.S. and globally.”
The road ahead for the institute’s 200-plus members will be long, challenging, and expensive, but Havey said he is resolutely committed to it. He has volunteered his time over all these years to global health, while still caring for his own patients at Northwestern.
“What Pat and Shirley have done for this city, the country and the entire world is incredible. They approach tough situations with a positive attitude and incredible confidence that makes everyone with whom they work feel that no task is too great and that talented teams can accomplish great things,” Havey said. “I am honored by their faith in me and my institute colleagues. We are all deeply grateful for their gift and know we will accomplish even greater things because of their generosity.”
“The Ryan’s extraordinary philanthropy will open new doors for the Robert J. Havey, MD Institute for Global Health during a time when investment in global health is crucial. Their gift will enable us to expand our research, travel programs, and relationships with scientists and clinicians across the world,” explained Robert Murphy, MD, ’81 ’84 GME, executive director of the Institute, the John Philip Phair Professor of Infectious Diseases and Havey’s partner in this work. “Together, we are giving our fellow global citizens the tools to fight heart disease, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, but also HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. We truly can’t do it without philanthropy.”