Cardiovascular disease (CVD) rates increased rapidly in Finland after the Second World War. The situation was particularly serious in North Karelia. Scientific studies, for example the Seven Countries Study, indicated that the coronary mortality among middle aged men was clearly higher in North Karelia compared with South-West Finland. In the international comparison, the disease rates were the highest in Finland among the seven countries. The coronary mortality among men in North Karelia was claimed “world record high”.
The burden of coronary diseases was so obvious, that the representatives of the province of North Karelia handed a petition to the state authorities and requested to help to improve the health of people in the province. After an active planning period, the North Karelia project started in 1972.
In the early phase of the planning process it was decided that the emphasis of the action would be prevention of cardiovascular diseases. When the objectives and the practical implementation plan were set, an approach based on community organization was selected. The project became the first major community-based project in CVD prevention. Later the scope of the project was broadened to include also other major chronic diseases and health promotion in an integrated manner.
The results of the North Karelia project demonstrated that prevention of CVDs and other major chronic diseases is possible and worthwhile. The experiences of the project have been utilized widely in Finland as well as internationally.
North Karelia Center for Public Health continues the action of the North Karelia project. The Center for Public Health acts as a developer, coordinator and actor in health promotion. The objective of the center is to increase health and wellbeing of the people under the theme for healthier everyday life. The work is based on evidence, previous experiences, intersectoral collaboration and participation of the people.
The most important stakeholders of the center are decision makers both on regional and local level, non-governmental organizations and private sector. By supporting the decision making processes, the center aims to promote creation of an environment supporting healthy choices. The basic principle in the cooperation with people is to enhance healthy everyday life and lifestyle.
The North Karelia Center for Public Health organizes training sessions and seminars, collaborates with municipalities and non-governmental organizations and participates in different kinds of health events.
The emphasis of the ongoing activities are development of the organization of health promotion both on regional and local level, development of SEMPPI self-treatment health sites and development of participation of third sector and civil society. Emphasis is put also on the increase and improvement of health communication and collaboration with and between public health associations.
Other areas of action are co-operation with enterprises aiming to improve occupational health and wellbeing, neighborhood area collaboration with the Russian Karelia and organization of health campaigns, such as the national quit smoking competition.