Risky Business — in conversation with two Israeli professors

Zvi Brivik (middle) with visiting Professors Dorit Nitzan and Manfred Green

By Mandy Allen

Ensuring that Israel — and the world — is prepared for the next major emergency (be it health-related, natural disaster or other humanitarian crises) is a weighty responsibility. 

It’s a calling to which Professor Manfred Green and Professor Dorit Nitzan have committed their professional lives. 

The couple were on holiday in Cape Town (Professor Green is originally from South Africa), and took the time on 6 February to speak to members and guests of the SAZF Cape Council, about their work in the highly specialised field of Preparedness and Response to Emergencies and Disasters. 

Both possess qualifications and accolades that are as extensive as they are impressive, and balance their academic pedigrees with frontline experience. 

As Professor of Public Health at Haifa University, leading its International Master of Public Health programme, Green has served as the IDF’s Head of Epidemiology and Public Health, was the founding director of the Israel Centre for Disease Control, and currently serves on a number of Israeli and global public-health-related advisory councils. Both Nitzan and Green played central roles in Israel’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Can you ever prevent a pandemic? No. But you can be prepared for it,” says Professor Green. “As one is ending, we anticipate and get ready for the next. You get through it with optimism, but not denial.”

The unpredictable and urgent nature of working in the disaster/emergency field was poignantly demonstrated during the couple’s talk. Just hours before, Turkey and Syria were struck by a series of devastating earthquakes. During her husband’s presentation, Professor Nitzan was in real-time communication with a member of Israel’s aid mission who was being deployed to the region. 

Prof Nitzan is well-acquainted with such situations. She currently directs the Masters Programme in Emergency Medicine Preparedness & Response at Ben-Gurion University’s School Of Public Health, which she came to after an esteemed 15-year-long career with the WHO (World Health Organisation). There she served, amongst other roles, as the WHO’s European Region Health Emergencies co-ordinator. No stranger to the trenches, in 2022 she led the Incident Management Team and the WHO humanitarian response in Ukraine. In addition to her research, teaching and participation in local and global committees in the fields of emergencies and health security, she is also director of the new Ben Gurion University Food Systems: One Health & Resilience Centre. 

Professor Nitzan explains that she is compelled by the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam; a call-to-action and duty to repair and improve the world. “It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not,” she says. “The humanitarian principles that we find in the Torah and Tanakh are deeply ingrained in Judaism and are also fundamental to Israeli norms and values.”

*For information on the University of Haifa’s International Master’s programme in Public Health specialising in Health Systems, Administration and Global Health Leadership, click here and on Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Global Health International summer programme click here; or contact doritni@bgu.ac.il

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