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European Public Health Week | May 22-26

The European Public Health Week, an initiative promoted by the European Public Health Association, began in 2019 and aims to raise awareness about public health and promote collaboration among the public health community in Europe. Within this week, we share with you the concept of social prescribing, by means of a testimonial [1] from Luciana Costa, researcher at the Biomedical and Translational Research Group, from the National Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo Jorge

 “Social prescribing represents an innovative tool based on a holistic and personalised approach focusing on individual needs that enables the practice of a biopsychosocial model of care. A recente conceptual definition describe social prescribing as “a means for trusted individuals in clinical and community settings to identify that a person has non-medical, health-related social needs, asd to subsequently conect them to non-clinical support and services within the community by co-producing a social prescription: a non-medical prescription to improve health and wellbeing, and to strengthen community connections” [2] 

In fact, integrated and community-based health and social care services offer new and untapped opportunities to generate health and address the diversity and complexity of health and social issues faced by different populations and individuals. Person-centred, primary health care systems linked to a wider set of locally-available and accessible services (social, artistic and cultural, educational and employment among others ) have the potential to enhance the quality of life of people facing vulnerability and to improve population health and wellbeing at large.

Sited in the corner of the small, packed room, Joaquim (not his real name) – a man, aged between 70 and 79 years old and who had recently received a social prescription – raised his hand, stood up and said to the twenty representatives of the nine European countries participating in the event: “Thank you for being here and for your interest in what we are doing. I just want to say I need to leave the room now. I have a theatre rehearsal and I cannot miss it. To be in Senior University has just changed my life and has made me feel like a better person. It makes me happy.”

Unexpectedly, at that moment my life changed. More than in all the other webinars I could have attended or documents I could have read, this was the turning point where I realized how social prescribing could help to build healthier communities and fit perfectly into the wider concept of positive health.

Joaquim’s eyes and the emotion he expressed through his comment brought me the sense I had been searching for, for so long elsewhere. The idea of social prescribing suddenly seemed to become a reality and with that the implementation of all the theoretical ideas about “health in all policies”, the inspiring speeches that we had listened to, and all the documents we had read made sense. All at once, social prescribing took the shape of the last piece of the puzzle. It could indeed promote health through an individual’s ability to adapt, self-manage his life and be resilient to the demanding social and environmental crises we are currently facing.

(…) At that time, maybe due to my previous background in pharmaceutical field, I was confined to the perception that social prescribing was purely an insightful way to control medicated prescriptions as an answer to clinical conditions, as it provided social alternatives to health problems. However, with the key players on the ground, I had the opportunity to see that social prescribing is much more than just “prescribing options”. It could effectively promote collaboration across stakeholders, through a holistic approach, taking a broad perspective, all whilst focusing on contributing to a sustainable, resilient, and just society.

(…) Yes, I believe that the best things in life often come unannounced. They just happen. Then, it is in our hands to take the blessed opportunity to make them flourish. Today, my professional life has a new meaning and hopefully I will be able to help others to pave the way forward for social prescribing towards a healthier and fairer society. Let’s change more lives!

Photo by John Cameron


[1] This text represents extracts with minor adaptations from the personal insight on the value of social prescribing, personal enlightenment and the importance of unity between sectors for a healthier and happier society, published by Luciana Costa in EuroHealthNet (EHN) magazine (, following the Country Exchange Visit held in 2022 organized in partnership with EHN and held at National Institute of Health Doutor Ricardo Jorge (Lisbon) that brought together representatives of member organisations and from the Portuguese local government to share their experiences and initiatives on ‘promoting health in the community: social prescribing and other strategies’ (for further information, please see

[2] GSPA Playbook[internet] Global Social Prescr. Available from

[Biographic Note] Luciana Costa (MSc, PhD, PharmD) is a researcher in the Department of Health Promotion and Prevention of non-communicable diseases (DPS) at the Portuguese National Institute of Health Dr Ricardo Jorge and a member of BioISI – BioSystems and Integrative Sciences Institute, Sciences, Faculty University of Lisbon. She holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences, MSc in Medical Physics and holds a Degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Presently, her main research interests are Health Impact Assessment, the promotion, exchange, scaling-up, transfer of Good Practices in Health Promotion and Prevention of NCDs at national and European level, and (very recently) Social Prescribing and Art, culture&Health development in Portugal.

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