The National Institute for Health Development (Országos Egészségfejlesztési Intézet – OEFI) is a government based agency planning, coordinating, monitoring and evaluating public health and health promotion at national level. OEFI has been established in 1958, having this way five decades of experience in health promotion and disease prevention.
By Peter Bezzegh
Health Promoting Offices (HPOs) are a novel element of the Hungarian primary health care system and provide a direct and effective link between health development activities and curative medicine. In 2013 and 2014, 61 HPOs started their work throughout the country from a dedicated grant scheme financed from the European Social Fund – 20 of them being in the most disadvantaged micro-regions of Hungary. This is the first time in Hungary that health promotion and disease prevention organisations working in local communities at the level of micro-regions have been established.
The main idea behind the establishment of the HPOs was to bring low-threshold health promotion, lifestyle and health behaviour change programs as close to people as possible.
The main aim of HPOs is to improve individuals’ health thorough disease prevention and promotion of healthy lifestyles and to avoid early and preventable mortality by targeting chronic and non-communicable diseases such as cardio-vascular diseases and malignancies.
Furthermore, HPOs facilitate cooperation among health-promoting organisations in their micro-region and assist local communities to render settings of everyday life healthier.
The sub-objectives are to promote physical activity and healthy diets, reducing the prevalence of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption and improving mental health.
The offices achieve these objectives by personal risk assessment of common lifestyle-related risk factors, providing person-oriented health counselling, offering lifestyle programmes and following up on their effectiveness.
The HPOs offer these services free of charge for the adult population of their micro-regions. The most popular – and therefore the most frequently attended – lifestyle programmes are physical activity programs (for example: Nordic walking, guided dance programmes, swimming, physiotherapy) and programs promoting healthy eating (e.g. cooking club, energy balance club).
Within the comprehensive development programme of the Hungarian public health system, the HPOs receive continuous professional support and guidance from the National Institute for Health Development, which is also responsible for collecting and evaluating data about the HPOs’ performance.
Until the end of 2014, HPOs reached out to a total of almost 120 000 people for at least a risk assessment or with some kind of community health-promotion program.
The national-level healthcare administration is committed to sustaining and expanding the networks of HPOs.
The future main target, according to policy-level intentions, shall be to strengthen and deepen connections between primary healthcare and the HPOs to ensure complex, medical and non-medical care for clients with chronic diseases and to ensure disease prevention for healthy clients too. In the long term, besides individual risk assessments, the HPOs should focus on health promotion programs in everyday settings, such as schools, workplaces and local communities.
HPOs are innovative organisational entities, and might serve as good examples to build sustainable health promotion and disease prevention capacities at micro-regional levels by utilising the European Social Fund to improve public health indicators, decrease health inequalities and create sustainable health development structures.
Péter is Health Promoting Offices (HPO) coordinator at the National Institute for Health Development in Hungary. Previously he worked for the Public Health Department of the Ministry of Human Capacities and for the Healthcare Department of Budapest City Hall.