Prof. Nachman Ash will replace Prof. Ronni Gamzu as coronavirus czar as country heads into winter of uncertainty
One of Israel’s top public health experts is praising the decision to name Prof. Nachman Ash to lead the country’s coronavirus efforts following Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s prescheduled departure.
Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s School of Public Health, called Ash an “excellent candidate” for the position of national coronavirus project coordinator, in an interview with The Media Line on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry issued a joint statement announcing the appointment of the 59-year-old Ash, who is director in the Division of Medicine at Maccabi Healthcare Services, the second-largest health fund in Israel, and a professor in the Health Systems Department at Ariel University.
Gamzu had agreed from his start as coronavirus czar in mid-July that in November he would return to his job as CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. The transition begins on Wednesday, with Gamzu officially leaving the project coordinator on November 13.
Davidovitch said that he had worked closely with Ash on several issues.
“He was always very broad-minded, attentive, a person who was always willing to hear criticism but also to make decisions,” Davidovitch remarked.
The father of twin boys and a daughter, married to pediatric oncologist Dr. Shifra Ash, Nachman Ash brings wide-ranging experience, according to Davidovitch, who singled out his four years as head of the IDF Medical Corps, particularly his handling of the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
He will be under lots of pressure like Gamzu and other people in the Health Ministry because of the politicization of the decision-making. And there will be lots of media attention. But I know him, and I’m sure he will work together [with others] with all confidence and will listen and integrate [their efforts and ideas]
While IDF chief medical officer, then-Brig. Gen. Ash was also in charge of deploying field hospitals to Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011 in response to natural disasters.
His educational background includes an MD degree from Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University in 1986 and a master’s degree in medical informatics from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health, Sciences and Technology in 2001. Ash also has a master’s degree in political science from the University of Haifa.
“Of course, he will be under lots of pressure like Gamzu and other people in the Health Ministry because of the politicization of the decision-making,” Davidovitch said. “And there will be lots of media attention. But I know him, and I’m sure he will work together [with others] with all confidence and will listen and integrate [their efforts and ideas].”
Gamzu’s tenure was notable for an increase in coronavirus infections, leading to the nation’s second lockdown, from which Israel is now gradually exiting.
Udi Qimron, professor in the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, is critical of Gamzu’s time at the Health Ministry.
“I believe that Prof. Gamzu was forced to implement a policy that he did not completely support, as he himself admitted. Some of his initial steps were, in my opinion, correct, but some of the measures he implemented, including the lockdown, were completely wrong,” Qimron told The Media Line.
“I believe that overall, his actions did not follow through on his initial speech on ‘signing a new agreement of trust’ with the Israeli public,” continued Qimron.
But Ash is entering into a much better situation compared to Gamzu, according to Davidovitch, in terms of hospital and community preparedness and the systems put in place to break the chains of infection, such as through contact tracing.
“He’s not coming to implement a revolution,” Davidovitch said. “He wants to create a system that is well organized and balanced and, especially now with winter coming, preventing a second wave and especially preventing another lockdown.”