It’s not so often that a country has a unanimous voice of its personality of the year. In Uganda, the question is already decided for 2020, it’s none other than Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng. Dr. Aceng is Uganda’s current Minister of Health, a position she’s held since 2016. In times when people are skeptical about government positions, it’s been different in Dr.Aceng’s time. Her ministry has been the final voice when it came of the Corona virus pandemic.
But who is Dr. Aceng? What is it that makes her different? It turns out her education experience played a part in the making of her personality. For her primary education, Dr. Aceng went through Shimoni Demonstration School, one of the most diverse schools that ever existed in the country. It was in 1980 that she sat for her Primary Leaving Examinations. At Shimoni, one came across all races, religions, tribes, basically one was in touch with people from all walks of life. Such environments have a way of humbling people. One learns to walk a mile in other people’s shoes.
From Shimoni, she would proceed to Nabisunsa Girls School, a Muslim-founded school. For a Christian, this once again would widen her perspective to life. From 1981 to 1987, she would put in all her six years of secondary education at this school based in Banda.
In 1993, she would embark on her journey for a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) at Makerere University. And as they say, the rest is history. Today, Dr. Aceng is one of the world’s celebrated Senior Consultant Paediatrics.
Her work journey started off at Lira Hospital in 1994 as a medical officer. It was at the time of the LRA war in Northern Uganda. Slowly she grew through the ranks, ascending to the position of Consultant Paediatrician/Ag. Director in 2010. It is then that the government of Uganda came calling through the Ministry of Health. She would go on to serve for 5 years as Director General, Health services till the time she was appointed Minister of Health.
In her time, she’s dealt with the highs and lows of running a Health Ministry in an impoverished country. Uganda’s per capita spending on health stands at a meagre USD 14, of which USD 9 is out of pocket. To imagine that one is expected to deliver top-notch health services at such a budget is to imagine something straight out of wonderland. Yet, Dr. Aceng has not been one to find excuses. She took the country through times of ebola outbreaks, oversaw the disappearance of the nodding disease and is currently Uganda’s superwoman at the time of the Corona virus.
An avid reader, Dr. Aceng has a passion for evidence-based research in everything she does. During the mass immunization in Uganda, she would have to put skin in the game. She led from the frontline by having her daughter as one of the first people to be vaccinated. This immediately restored confidence in the vaccination drive despite the initial public rejection.
In a country where the average age of Ministers stands at over 60 years old, the 51 year old Dr. Aceng has not shied away from embracing social media as the tool for reaching out to the millennial population. She’s been a pinnacle of engagement, ensuring that every breakthrough from the Ministry is something citizens are aware of on a minute to minute basis.
What makes her stand out? It’s humility. It’s the fact that she’s not out to seek popularity. She’s often looked at a position as a chance for her to contribute to her country. Even when praised, she deflects the praises back to her wider team. She believes without her A-team, she would not have done much. It’s the true test of a leader, the ability to shine because you identified the right people to work with. Yet, one must recognize that all this would not be possible without her at the helm. For the first time, you have a country’s health team working with calmness to combat a pandemic that is shutting down the world.