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Government and ministries

Prevention should be number one priority

11.1.2021 12.57

Finland has set the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative shortly thereafter. The objective is very worthwhile and many municipalities want to achieve it even before 2035. What is more, the goal is a strong driver of climate and other environmental decision-making. Achieving this aim and building our future naturally requires healthy people who have the capacity to function in society. Could Finland therefore be a true pioneer and set another goal to complement carbon neutrality? This goal could, for example, relate to the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.

For the past two decades, many official documents have increasingly highlighted the importance of promoting health and wellbeing and emphasised preventive measures. A number of different strategic guidelines and action programmes based on those viewpoints have been produced under slightly different headings. How is it then that the costs to taxpayers of various preventable illnesses and problems have increased in the recent years to total at least EUR 10 billion annually? 

In my opinion there are at least three fundamental reasons for the growth in preventable problems and their costs. First, preventive measures continue to be too strongly linked with the social and health care services system. While the system has an important role to play, especially in correcting existing problems, most of people’s lives happen outside of health care centres and therefore also the root causes of the problems are to be found elsewhere. The focus of preventive measures should therefore not lie just on the development of internal processes of social and health care system, even though it is important to use the skills of the experts in the field.

Second, we very rarely set measurable outcome targets for these actions. Instead, the starting point for action is, as a rule, the same old list of operational objectives of organising, developing, investigating, meeting and so on. In doing so, we do not make it clear to ourselves what it is we want to achieve exactly and, as a result, we have no way of knowing whether these actions produce any results. 

Preventive measures are too often seen just as direct influence on individuals, their physical activity and other lifestyle choices. In practice they are fixed-term projects separate from each other. However, preventive action is more about supporting and strengthening the life management skills of people of different ages, personalities and circumstances. In this regard, creating better conditions for life management requires a much broader and longer-term approach than short projects on lifestyle choices.

The current Government Programme says: The Government will boost the economy of wellbeing by investing in measures that foster people’s health and wellbeing and reduce their need for services. I would like to interpret it as an opportunity for a much more systematic approach than before. The activities should be based on clearly defined outcome targets, a comprehensive approach and an ecosystem built on this approach, which will be required to achieve the sustainable positive changes.

The primary task of the Centre of Expertise for Impact Investing is to support the public sector in outcomes contracting, particularly within proactive and preventive measures. Indeed, the Centre is eager to contribute to the realisation of investments that support wellbeing and health.

Mika Pyykkö, Director
Centre of Expertise for Impact Investing


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