Zack Rothbart

Farewell Ronni Gamzu

Don't know who that is? Too bad, your health depends on it

Neither government ministries nor healthcare are sexy topics and you probably don’t know who Ronni Gamzu is.

It’s likely that you don’t know or care that the minister of health and the director of that ministry are different people.

When and if you happened to hear that Israeli Ministry of Health Director Gamzu recently announced his resignation, you probably didn’t care and didn’t read further.

You should have.

Gamzu and his office impact your life on a daily basis — for better or for worse — and we should all care about him and his yet-to-be-named replacement.

Gamzu is a doctor, an academic and a social-minded technocrat; he is not a coalition-inspired politically-appointed government minister. By most accounts, he had a successful and impactful four year term in his position, helping to formulate and implement at least 3 major revolutions in the Israeli healthcare system that we should all care about:

1. Reducing gaps in the healthcare system
In the past few years, Gamzu has expressed his view quite clearly that there remain unacceptable gaps in the Israeli healthcare system that must be addressed. Gamzu has spearheaded the most concerted effort in Israel’s history to make healthcare services and support more accessible to non-Hebrew speakers (including English-speakers), and has generally opposed privatization of the healthcare system, insisting that it often leaves the lower classes behind. These two important stances are felt every time you call the clinic, visit a hospital or pay for health insurance.

2. Free dental care for kids
Along with former Deputy Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman, Gamzu designed and implemented a new program over the last few years to provide free dental care to all Israeli children up to age 12. Think of Ronni next time you don’t get a bill for having your kid’s cavity filled (and next time you do get one for your own dental work…).

3. (Hopefully) improving mental health
Mental illness is not treated like other illnesses in Israel. Mental health facilities are operated by the Ministry of Health, as opposed to the health funds (kupot cholim), which provide almost all other basic healthcare services. Gamzu and Litzman’s reform, which should be fully implemented in July 2015, will transfer responsibility for the mental health system from the Ministry to the kupot health funds, hopefully enabling a long-overdue improvement and more funding of services for those suffering from mental illness.

If you love Ronni Gamzu as a result of this article, that’s okay, but it wasn’t its purpose. For all of his achievements, objectively speaking, Gamzu also seems to be a tough guy to work with, having even been nicknamed “Napoleon” by some in the Ministry.

Whether it’s his personality, her personality, or a toxic mixture of both, the media has seemingly unanimously declared that his resignation is due to difficulties working with Minister of Health Yael German, who kept Gamzu in his position upon taking office and commended him on his performance, despite many reports that the two have been at odds since the get-go.

Regardless of in-office drama, it’s clear how and why Gamzu and his Ministry are major players in the daily lives of all Israelis. While he has pledged to solve the Hadassah crisis before he leaves in June, his successor will certainly need to handle a variety of crises and challenges both short- and long-term, many of which will impact the average Israeli in one way or another.

The next Ministry of Health director has not yet been appointed and you will probably not have heard of him or her anyway. You should keep an eye out, though, because the next Ronni Gamzu will impact your life over the next few years more than almost anyone in this country…and hopefully for the better.

About the Author
Zack Rothbart is a Jerusalem-based writer and publicist. He is currently Senior Strategist at Concrete Media, and previously served as the National Library of Israel's international spokesman. Zack tries to learn something from everyone, and lives with his endearing and thought-provoking family, for which he is grateful. Feel free to email him via the "Contact Me" link above.