Public Health: Ying Cui

Ying Cui: Master of Public Health, 2014. Technical Officer at the World Health Organisation (WHO), China.


As the world confronts a pandemic, Ying Cui (Master of Public Health, 2014) also contends with the concurrent “infodemic”, as she fights misinformation through the World Health Organisation in China. Ying studied at the University of Melbourne as an international student from China.

Ying Cui’s typical role at the World Health Organisation (WHO) office based in Beijing has her responsible for sodium reduction and other healthy lifestyle programs. The demands of COVID-19, however, inevitably mobilized all staff in the China office to support the pandemic response. Ying now finds herself thrown into work with the communications team to monitor COVID-19 discussions in the media, develop messaging that responds to public concern, and ensure the glut of available health information is tempered for accuracy. For Ying, this work has a personal element as she says, “this was an outbreak that affected our whole team – we have team members from Wuhan, and all of us were concerned and wanted to be a part of the response.”

Despite her determination to contribute to the global effort, Ying has found that this new working landscape is strewn with challenges. Her routine technical work is health promotion; prioritizing public access to health information and working with policy makers to build healthier environments. While communications work is nothing new, the uncertainty of COVID-19 complicates the process.

“COVID-19 is a new disease. Even now with global efforts, we are still learning about the disease every day, and still have more to learn in order to suppress the virus. We’ve had to try and continuously update our strategy to communicate the most needed information and to convey a sense of urgency, without leading to panic.  It’s certainly a challenge.”

Ying notes that the first few months were particularly stressful, as public concern was escalating and misinformation was rife. In this time, Ying found the continuous support of her fellow WHO colleagues to be invaluable. From the local office in Beijing to the regional office in Manila and the headquarters in Geneva, the shared objective fostered an atmosphere of connection.

Working in China, Ying reflects that she feels privileged to be part of the response by delivering timely, useful and trustworthy information to the public. She has a passion for health promotion and has always wanted to devote herself to the effort of building a healthier world. Ying recalls her first day at the University of Melbourne, where this influence was cemented.

“As an alumnus, I still remember what Professor Moodie told us on orientation day: ‘you are not here to learn how to become a millionaire but to pursue a journey to create a better and healthier world.’ This is like my motto that still motivates me now as I’m working as a public health professional every day.”

Ying was drawn to the University of Melbourne for her postgraduate studies in Public Health by the diverse coursework and opportunities for research and professional practice placements. She found she was “often inspired by the strong passion and enthusiasm of the professors and peer students in public health.” Far away from her hometown in China, Ying found that professors were supportive and approachable, and she says that “listening to the stories of peer students and learning about their career and life plans motivated me to be brave and think big.”

It is this advice to “think big” that Ying offers as encouragement for current students. While at University she specialised in epidemiology and biostatistics, but now finds herself working in health communications and advocacy.  With an open mind and willingness to push herself, Ying dove into this new opportunity and unexpectedly discovered her expertise in health policy advocacy. In her 5 years with the WHO China, she has overseen the design, planning and execution of several diverse campaigns. “This would be the expertise that I could not imagine back in university,” she notes, “but I have gained it along the way.” For Ying, she learnt quickly that policy advocacy work is more complex, task-oriented and granular than what people perhaps would expect.

Nonetheless, Ying reminds us that all the routine activities of our days contribute to broader visions. In these testing times, she continues to find inspiration as she reflects “I deeply believe that what we are fighting for today would benefit the population we are serving in the long run, which will lead us to a more equitable and healthier living environment.”

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