WHO - World Health Organization Regional Office for The Western Pacific

06/24/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/23/2024 20:59

WHO promotes social prescribing to improve health and well-being in the Western Pacific

The World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Region is experiencing a significant demographic shift, with populations ageing rapidly. Out of the global total of approximately 700 million people aged over 60 years in the world, more than 240 million reside in the Western Pacific Region. This trend is accompanied by a rise in noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory illnesses and mental health conditions. Despite improvements in life expectancy, there is a substantial gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. Older individuals are more vulnerable than other groups to social isolation and loneliness due to factors such as declining physical and mental capacities and limited digital access. Addressing these challenges requires a multisectoral approach, targeting both NCD risk factors and the social determinants of health.

Social prescribing to improve health

WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Social prescribing recognizes that health is heavily determined by factors like poverty, isolation and loneliness. It is a holistic approach in healthcare where health-care workers connect patients to non-clinical community services to enhance their overall health and well-being. This method aims to address the root causes of health issues rather than just treating symptoms, promoting integrated, community-based care and reducing medical interventions. It involves referring patients to various activities and services tailored to each community, such as mental health support, social inclusion initiatives, financial and housing advice, physical activities, and creative self-expression opportunities.

By connecting individuals with community resources and activities − such as arts programmes − social prescribing aims to address complex health issues, improve mental well-being and promote holistic health. Arts interventions in particular have demonstrated their potential to foster social connection and prevent chronic diseases. Recognizing this, WHO emphasizes the importance of addressing social determinants to enhance health and well-being.

The power of the arts

There is robust evidence supporting the positive role of the arts in improving health and well-being. Diverse studies highlight the potential impact of the arts on both mental and physical health across health promotion and the prevention, management and treatment of diseases. Studies stress the importance of ensuring that social prescribing policies support arts interventions that are based on evidence, promote cultural diversity and enhance collaboration between sectors.

By actively promoting awareness of the value of these approaches and developing interventions that encourage arts and social engagement to support healthy lifestyles, WHO is contributing to a comprehensive and inclusive approach to addressing the health needs of diverse populations in the Region. In Cambodia, with academic partners at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, WHO provided technical support to link worker training for village health support groups, community health workers and local health administrators in both rural and urban environments in select ten provinces. The trainings focused on improving mental health and social participation of older adults. In Shangrao, China, in collaboration with academic partners at Peking University, WHO facilitated the introduction of social prescribing for older people. With strong interest from the local government, health and social care workers formed a team to refer older people to available resources in their community, based on their interests and needs, aimed at improving their health and well-being.

As part of its healthy ageing initiatives in the Western Pacific, WHO held an event on social prescribing at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila, Philippines, on 8 May 2024. The event highlighted the way art can be included as a valuable component of programmes to encourage behaviour changes that help prevent and manage NCDs. The session, attended by WHO staff, Philippine Department of Health personnel, the Philippine National Commission of Senior Citizens, and partners from arts and cultural agencies, focused on fostering future collaborations to enhance the health and well-being of older people.

Diverse studies highlight the potential impact of the arts on both mental and physical health across health promotion and the prevention, management and treatment of diseases. WHO/G. Borrero

"The intersection between art and health is very deep. A healthy and meaningful life needs culture − without art, colour and music, life becomes very dull," said Dr Susan Mercado, WHO's Director of Programme Management for the Western Pacific Region. About the role of the Organization, she emphasized that "WHO needs to explore new ways of looking at the work of health professionals and we need to help people find meaning in life."

The WHO Commission on Social Connection (2024-2026)seeks to make loneliness and social isolation a global public health priority. By advocating for recognition and resources, the Commission aims to address the serious impacts of these issues on people's physical and mental health, as well as community and societal well-being. By leveraging existing research and collaborating with national arts and culture bodies, WHO can provide technical support to Member States to develop comprehensive strategies that address the unique challenges faced by an ageing population, as well as those experiencing low socioeconomic status.

Building on evidence and experiences from initiatives at WHO headquarters and the WHO Regional Office for Europe, there is an opportunity for Member States from the Western Pacific Region to utilize social prescribing to improve social connections, social determinants of health, and physical and mental health outcomes.