Professor Pekka Puska is currently the Director General of the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland (THL). THL is a comprehensive national institute for public health and welfare under Ministry of Health in Finland. It employs some 1300 persons and covers a broad range of health and welfare issues from disease prevention, nutrition, lifestyles and environment, infectious disease control and national vaccination programmes to health and social services, health and welfare monitoring and statistics. THL has major national service functions, various surveillance tasks, high level research and numerous international activities.
Prior to his present position Professor Puska was the Director General of KTL and, before that, the Director for Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the World Health Organization Headquarters in Geneva.
Professor Puska has, for most of his career, worked at the National Public Health Institute. He was, for 25 years, the Director and Principal Investigator of the North Karelia Project: prevention of cardiovascular diseases in North Karelia and later on in all Finland. Within 25 years, over 80% decline in annual heart disease mortality among the working age population and a dramatic general improvement in public health took place. The project is widely seen as a model for successful population based prevention of cardiovascular and other noncommunicable diseases (NCD).
At WHO, Pekka Puska directed the work on integrated prevention of NCD targeting the main risk factors (tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity) through health promotion, national programmes, policy measures and regional networks. Professor Puska’s Department was the focal point of this work that culminated in adoption of the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health by the World Health Assembly in 2004.