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Association for Natural Medicine in Europe e.V.

... for natural health promotion in Europe!


Association for Natural Medicine in Europe e.V.

... for natural health promotion in Europe!


The power of healing: new WHO report shows how arts can help beat noncommunicable diseases

Copenhagen, Nov.15th, 2023

The arts have long been recognized for enriching our lives, but they can also play a powerful role in our health. In recent years, a growing body of research suggests that arts-based interventions can help tackle noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – from cardiovascular diseases to cancer. A new report from WHO/Europe*, which builds on the “Learning from the arts” conference held in Budapest, suggests how arts can be integrated into health systems to supplement NCD treatment and prevention.

“As if the chemotherapy had disappeared for that period”

During the Budapest conference held in December 2022, Christopher Bailey, Arts and Health Lead at WHO, shared his experience of struggling with obesity and cancer. Christopher recalled how the stories he used to share in his personal blog, and plays he wrote for theatre, helped him to get through his fight with cancer, recover from chemotherapy and rethink the way he perceives what being healthy is like.

“I’ve found that, when I was on stage working with actors, I had this profound sense of well-being,” said Christopher during his speech. “I could walk, I could hold things, I could speak eloquently. It was as if the chemotherapy had disappeared for that period of rehearsal and performance. When I got back home and would take off my shoes and my socks, they would be soaked in blood. I couldn’t speak anymore, it was only temporary, but at that moment of performance – I was well.”

“The arts are not about curing – it doesn’t cure cancer,” he continued. “But arts can heal. That is different. They create this sense of deep personal meaning that make your life beautiful, no matter the circumstances.”

Arts can supplement medicines

Increasing evidence demonstrates that arts can be used as an effective supplement to medical treatment and healing. They are non-invasive and low-risk.

WHO/Europe is exploring the potential of arts as complementary to the prevention and treatment of NCDs – which is the biggest health threat in the WHO European Region, a Region where cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, cancer and other NCDs account for 90% of all deaths.

“This report provides real world examples of different approaches, which the arts and health field can apply to NCD prevention, and generates momentum for more collaboration. I hope that our report will promote the value of arts and health projects across the whole Region and, most importantly, advance their real-world application, particularly at the policy level,”

said Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, WHO/Europe Regional Adviser for Nutrition, Obesity and Physical Activity.

The sound of healing

There are unlimited ways to bring arts into our lives – and the same applies to arts as health interventions.

The new WHO report highlights several inspiring arts and health projects that help to fight NCDs and reduce related risks in countries across the Region.

For example, the Madrid Salud project engages people from vulnerable social groups from the Spanish capital to take part in art events that at the same time raise awareness of NCD-related health issues: from the risks of unhealthy diets to the benefits of active lifestyles. In Hungary, patients, after having respiratory illness, can choose to join a choir as part of their rehabilitation course. In the Russian city of Vologda, a project from the National Research Center for Preventive Medicine is reframing fairy-tales and other children’s stories to improve health literacy in schools.

A bridge between culture and health

“We are seeing that there has been a change of attitude in the health-care community. A few years ago, the discussion was developing around the need for more evidence. Now there is recognition that arts really improve health and well-being,” said Nils Fietje, Technical Officer at the WHO/Europe Behavioural and Cultural Insights Unit.

Today, health systems are ready to harness the potential of art interventions. They are beginning to understand that they can use so-called social prescribing to recommend patients concrete and evidence-based art therapies that can be inclusive, bring together the young and elderly, and create a bridge between culture and health that can enrich the lives of all people.

“If we can bring arts and health together, it can create a stronger bond with the potential to enhance well-being and foster a healthier environment for all,”

said Dr Gauden Galea, WHO/Europe Strategic Adviser to the Regional Director, Special Initiative on NCDs and Innovation (SNI).

*See the Report on WHO-Europe website:

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