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.
The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) was formed after a merger of the National Public Health Institute (KTL) and the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (Stakes), and started its work in January 2009. 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.
Professor Puska has, internationally and domestically, been involved in a number of scientific, expert and public health functions, WHO's work, multinational projects etc. He has over 500 scientific publications. Professor Puska has served as a Member of the National Parliament of Finland. In his current position as Director General of THL Professor Puska has a central position in Finnish public health work and in health & social policy issues. He is also the Chancellor of the University of Turku.
Internationally, Professor Puska is the immediate Past-President of World Heart Federation and the Vice-President of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) and also the Chair of the Governing Council of the WHO International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC).
Professor Puska has M.D and M.Pol.Sc. degrees and PhD in epidemiology and public health. Among several honours are Honorary Doctorate at St. Andrew's University (Scotland) and Academician of Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. He has received, among other things, WHO's annual Health Education Award in 1990, WHO Tobacco Free World Award in 1999, the Nordic Award for Public Health in 2005, and the Rank Prize in 2008.