Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero: From Humble Beginnings to Healthcare Hero

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero radiates confidence, elegance, and a commanding presence in her matte-black corporate suit. At 55 years old, she exudes an energy and poise that is both captivating and inspiring. Her spectacles accentuate the aura of intellectual prowess that she has honed over decades of service. Her bright red brooch with matching Afro-designed earrings adds a touch of vibrancy to her overall appearance, making her a true force to be reckoned with. Dr Aceng is a paediatrician, researcher, medical administrator, and politician. In this profile, we delve into her life and career, sharing her triumphs, challenges, and lessons learned.

Early Life and Education

Jane Ruth Aceng with siblings in Lira

Jane Ruth Aceng was born on May 11, 1968, in Oyam District. Her mother was a midwife who moved to Lira shortly after her birth, where she grew up until the age of five when she started her education at Amberland Primary School. She later attended Shimoni Primary School in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, with her two brothers when her father, a teacher, was transferred for work. For her secondary education, she enrolled in Nabisunsa Girls Secondary School, where she studied her Ordinary and Advanced Levels of Education for six years. Aceng excelled, and she was the only girl that year to get enough marks to study medicine at Makerere University.

In 1987, a young Jane Ruth Aceng enrolled in medical school, where she met Andrew Ocero, and they studied together until their graduation in 1993. After completing their internship in Lacor Hospital in 1994, they were posted to Kiryandongo Hospital as a General Hospital. However, they preferred to go to Lira, where they were warmly welcomed by the community. In Lira, they worked tirelessly to improve the hospital’s services, and their dedication earned them the nickname “otin” (young) doctors.

Dr. Aceng holds a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, a Master of Medicine in Pediatrics, and a Master of Public Health, all from the Makerere University College of Health Sciences. She also holds a Diploma in Health Systems Management awarded by the Galilee International Management Institute in Israel. Dr. Aceng began serving

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng at Makere University. Courtesy Photo

as a medical officer in the Ministry of Health. At the time she was appointed Director-General of Medical Services, she was serving as executive director of Lira Regional Referral Hospital. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Infectious Diseases Institute. Dr. Aceng also served as a member of the board of Uganda National Medical Stores, the pharmaceutical procurement, and distribution arm of the Ministry of Health, from 2005 until 2016.

Political Career

In 2011, Dr Aceng was appointed by President Museveni as the Director General of Health Services and on June 6, 2016 she was appointed Minister of Health, a position she holds up to date.

In July 2020, Dr Aceng declared her intention to contest for the position of Women Representative for Lira District under the National Resistance Movement party ticket in the 11th Parliament (2021 – 2026) and successfully beat her contenders for the seat. Dr. Aceng withdrew her expression of interest to stand for the position of Speaker of Parliament, which was issued in a statement she addressed to the Chairperson of the NRM Electoral Commission, Tanga Odoi. She said that whereas it was her constitutional right to contest, she took a decision to withdraw from the race citing not having enough time to consult the party leadership, and not having made enough consultations with fellow colleagues and even her family which she therefore felt was only appropriate to step down from the race for Speaker of Parliament.

Dr Jane and Dr Andrew in their marital home

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng’s Marriage to Dr Ocero

Andrew Ocero and Jane Ruth Aceng joined medical school at the same time, but they didn’t really take notice of each other until around 1989. It was then that they started to become interested in one another. The two studied together and graduated from medical school in 1993. They had already decided by that time that they would get married. 

In 1995, they got married traditionally, and by then, they already had two sons they had in medical school. They continued with their work at Lira Hospital and had a daughter in 1997. In 1997, when the hospital faced leadership challenges, Andrew was requested to take over leadership, but he recommended Jane for the position of Medical Superintendent. Jane accepted the role and held it until 2000 when she applied to go back to school to study Paediatrics.

Andrew Ocero (Left) and Jane Ruth Aceng (Centre Right) with friends

Despite their flourishing business in Lira, Andrew agreed to let Jane pursue her studies first, and he joined her in 2001 to study Adult Medicine. Jane completed her studies in 2003, but she was not interested in returning to Lira. Andrew convinced her to return to Lira, where she could develop and make a significant impact on the community. Although she initially resisted, she eventually accepted and resumed her role as Medical Superintendent. In 2004, Andrew completed his studies and joined Jane in Lira, while their children stayed in Kampala to continue their education. It became difficult to transfer them back to Lira, and they maintained this pattern.

Minister for Health Jane Ruth Aceng accepts her Health Leadership Heroes Award 2021 at the Kampala Serena Hotel

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng’s Notable Achievements and Awards

  • Dr Aceng’s achievements include the successful implementation of the Uganda National Expanded Program on Immunization, which has increased immunization coverage and reduced vaccine-preventable diseases. She has also played a critical role in the fight against HIV/AIDS, leading efforts to scale up HIV testing and treatment, as well as implementing innovative strategies to address the social and economic impact of the disease.
  • Her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic has also been exemplary, with Uganda being one of the few countries in the world to successfully contain the spread of the virus. Her strong leadership, decisive actions, and effective communication have been key in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on Uganda’s health system and economy.
  • Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero was appointed second Vice President of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee in Africa during the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Lome, Togo which commenced on 22nd – 26th August 2022.
  • On 12th December 2021 was recognized during the Health Heroes Awards 2021 at the Kampala Serena Hotel with the “Health Leadership Award” for her role in strategic management of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • On 8th October 2020, she was honoured with an award from Airtel Uganda of Aceng’s contribution to the fight against Covid-19 in Uganda. According to Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, this award, more-so, a day before Independence Day has re-energized her to do more.
  • On 22nd May 2019 received an award recognizing her as the “Heroine for Health” by the Women in Global Health.

Research Work by Dr Jane Ruth Aceng 

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng is an accomplished scholar

Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero is a medical doctor and public health specialist from Uganda. She has published widely in the field of medicine and played a significant role in the fight against HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. Some of her works are outlined below;

Stand on sanitation and waste management

Aceng’s stand on sanitation and waste management has been to work closely with city authorities to ensure sanitation and public health is maintained at the highest possible level. She advocates for procuring and effectively using refuse collection facilities such as trucks, waste troughs, and incinerators. She also lobbies for the introduction of industries that can utilize refuse and transform it into manure and gas to reduce environmental destruction through the burning of firewood for charcoal.

Controversy surrounding Dr Jane Ruth Aceng

However, Aceng’s tenure as Uganda’s Minister of Health has been marked by several challenges, including a shortage of medical consultants, poor pay, dilapidated equipment, a lack of resources, and a small healthcare budget. Despite these challenges, Aceng has been a strong advocate for improving the standard of medical education in Uganda, even accusing some universities of offering poor-quality medical education. Her controversial proposal requiring interns to take a new national examination faced legal challenges from the 2016/2017 intern class resulting into a court case against this proposal.

There were many media reports that inaccurately stated that Minister Aceng had authorized the cultivation of cannabis in Uganda. However, she dismissed these reports as unfounded and untrue, as the Cabinet had not yet considered the matter. In her role as Minister of Health, she created 15 strict rules for companies that want to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes, including a requirement for individuals and companies to have a minimum capital of UShs18.3 billion ($5 million) and a bank guarantee of UShs 3.7 billion ($1 million). Additionally, the guidelines specify that marijuana farms cannot be located near schools, hospitals, or residential areas, and must have a strong security system in place with access control and intrusion detection systems.

Nonetheless, Dr Aceng’s commitment to addressing the numerous challenges in Uganda’s healthcare system has solidified her status as a distinguished Minister of Health who continues to serve her country with dedication.

Conclusion

Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero has made significant contributions to the healthcare sector in Uganda, both during her tenure as Director General of Health Services and as Minister of Health. Her leadership and vision have been instrumental in improving the health outcomes of Ugandans, especially in the areas of maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, and infectious diseases.

As Dr Aceng continues to serve as Minister of Health for Uganda, her dedication and commitment to improving the health and well-being of Ugandans remain unwavering. Her leadership and achievements have undoubtedly earned her a place as one of Uganda’s most distinguished and respected public health professionals, and her legacy will continue to inspire future generations of healthcare leaders in Uganda and beyond.

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Update
The section on net worth has been retracted as qualitative checks following publication can not independently verify the information.

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