When Niveen Abu-Rmeileh began her job in 2005, her superiors told her that she should be seen and not heard.
“You are too young for your opinion to matter,” she recalled. “You do not have enough experience.”
At the time, Abu-Rmeileh, then 27 and newly armed with a doctorate from abroad, was the sole statistical epidemiologist in Palestine and was about to begin teaching at Birzeit University.
Today, she is among the top 2 percent of professors worldwide in a field of 100,000, according to a study by Stanford University in 2020. She is a member of a team of Palestinian public health officials and doctors examining Covid-19 and is working on a scientific paper describing the epidemiological characteristics of the disease in Palestine. (See a related article, “Public Health Experts Are Often Missing From Arab World’s Coronavirus Battle.”)
She is also cooperating with several agencies, including the Palestinian Ministry of Health, to set standards for health care in Palestine and ensure that it conforms to the latest in public health research.
‘A Strong Voice in the Region and the World’
Colleagues praise her drive, professionalism and ability both in the lab and outside of it.
“She has exceptionally good leadership skills,” said Martin O’Flaherty, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, who was one of her professors at the University of Glasgow, where she earned her Ph.D.
She is “making the case to improve health in her country, acknowledging the stark health inequalities but always looking for positive actions based on the best evidence available or she can produce,” O’Flaherty added. “This research into action ethos makes her a strong voice in the region and the world.”
Abu-Rmeileh says that it was knowledge but also sheer determination that enabled her to make it in a male-dominated field and in a society where women are seen as home-makers and mothers, not as professionals, scientists or professors.
“Women’s opinions are rarely considered in our society,” she said. “But women in Palestine are capable and component, we have the knowledge and wisdom to sit at the same table with men despite our age and experience.”
Abdullatif Hussein, director of the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University and her boss, concurred.