Minyuan Chen

Meet Dr Minyuan Chen from The George Institute, China

Minyuan is a Research Associate at The George Institute’s China office, working under the Women’s Health Program. With a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine and Master’s in Public Health, Minyuan started at The George in 2019.

She is currently working on the ‘mHealth for a better first 1000 days’ project, focused on Maternal and Child Health Care (MCH) in China. The application of mobile health (mHealth) technology in reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health is increasing worldwide and in China. However, best practices and the most effective mHealth interventions have not been reviewed systematically.

The aims of the ‘1000 days’ project are:

 1. To explore trends in the use of mobile apps for MCH in China and the effectiveness of mHealth Interventions for maternal and child health outcomes.

 2. To develop a digital platform that covers the pivotal 1000-day period from a woman’s pregnancy to when her child is two years old and even beyond. This platform or app seeks to provide pregnant women with easy access to health services and self-management tools to monitor the progress of pregnancy. It can help manage chronic conditions and provide useful maternal and child health information. 

“Recently, we have conducted a retrospective study in China to examine the impact of mobile health applications on pregnancy outcomes. The exploratory findings would be informative to future studies in this field and help us upgrade the app for optimal use,” says Minyuan.

Not just another app

Users can easily access the app from WeChat, the most popular social media app in China that has over one billion users.

Minyuan explains, “With this mini program, women are more confident and more effective at monitoring the progress of pregnancy, nutrition, weight, mental health conditions, disease conditions, breastfeeding, vaccination and early childhood development.”

While there is no dearth of maternal and child health apps in China, the ‘1000 days’ project app is unique.

“First, unlike most other apps, it is free and has no commercial aspect to it. Secondly, it is smart, as the program smartly pushes evaluation tools and gives recommended health knowledge contents specific to users. For example, we will provide prenatal anxiety evaluation tools at a certain period of pregnancy, and if results reveal symptoms of anxiety, the system will share appropriate mental health knowledge and tools to seek medical guidance,” says Minyuan.

The other distinct feature of the app is that it covers the period from pregnancy to when the child turns two and beyond. Users can switch between three modules with ease: ‘preconception’, ‘pregnancy’, to ‘had a baby’.

“We added all the health knowledge with audio, so users can access it whenever cooking, eating, or doing laundry,” adds Minyuan.

Overcoming challenges

Minyuan wants to focus her work on women’s health. She believes when more women are engaged in research it leads to better health outcomes for women and girls.

“I noticed that women were more vulnerable than men in the COVID-19 crisis, especially in low to middle income settings. More women lost their jobs and health care resources for women and girls were reallocated. Therefore, I think not only in research, women should be more engaged in ‘every corner’ of the world. I believe we must ‘leave no woman behind’, so that health outcomes for women and girls improve more significantly.”

Relating to the International Women’s Day 2021 theme of ‘Choose to Challenge’, Minyuan says she has channelled her own challenges into achievement. 

“I was a very shy girl as a teenager, and it was challenges that taught me to be confident and brave. Work and life are never smooth, but when a challenge comes, we should embrace it, be positive because a challenge makes us grow.”

Her message for others who want to follow her footsteps - “As a junior researcher, I want to say to young women and girls that we should be strong, be brave, and make choices with our heart.”