Health systems

Drugs and technology

WHO/Stephenie Hollyman

For health services to be effective, drugs and technology must be available, efficacious, of high quality, safe and rationally used. It is a health system’s role to achieve these objectives in balance with other necessary resources.

Advances in technology – such as new drugs or diagnostic equipment – can improve health outcomes and the overall performance of a health care system. But innovations also present challenges because their introduction alters the balance between resources and often, increases the cost of care. In the past few decades, revolutionary advances in medicine and technology have altered the roles of hospitals and primary health and community care facilities. Responsive health systems examine these changes in the light of their priorities and consider what changes, if any, to make.

Poor countries have only limited possibilities for investing in modern medical technologies or paying for the latest medicines, lest they sacrifice essential, life-saving primary level services. Wealthy countries also need to balance the needs of the general population against demands for hi-tech medicine and its tendency to escalate the cost of health care overall.

Prices for many drugs and technologies are set not by local but rather by international markets. International stewardship is needed to represent the interests of consumers in low-income countries, especially those facing heavy burdens of infectious and parasitic diseases.

Drugs and technology Helpful resources

Essential drugs

Access to vaccines

Blood products and related biologicals

Health technology

Medical devices & equipment

Medicines and technologies for health


Health systems

A well-functioning health system
working in harmony is built on having
trained and motivated health
workers, a well-maintained infrastructure,
and a reliable supply of medicines
and technologies, backed by adequate
funding, strong health plans and
evidence-based policies.