Indicators and monitoring systems are worthwhile only if they are used. Too often, data are collected but never analysed; or data are analysed but never used to improve or modify existing practices or policy. This manual is intended to produce results that can be used to improve the effectiveness of drug policy in the following ways:
First, the indicators derived from the manual can be used to monitor the progress in implementing the various components of a national drug policy. Are the basic structures in place, and are they functioning adequately? Which components are performing well, and which not? If the indicators can be collected regularly over time, then it becomes possible to determine whether particular components have improved or declined in performance.
Second, the indicators can be used to assess the priorities for implementation in the drug sector, and also to assess the effectiveness of overall drug policy strategies. If one component of drug policy is performing poorly compared with other components, then it may be desirable to allocate more resources (both human and financial), and thereby revise the relative priorities of different components, in an effort to improve implementation. In some cases, it may be necessary to change the strategy, for example by introducing a programme for the promotion of essential drugs, or by developing new pricing policies in order to encourage private distribution of essential drugs.
Third, the indicators can be used by both national and international agencies to compare drug policy performance across different countries. A comparison of structural indicators would assist in identifying relative weaknesses and strengths in institutional capacity to implement drug policy, and a comparison of process indicators would help to show the relative progress in achieving drug policy targets. Cross-national comparisons can also assist national policy-makers in learning about innovative approaches that may be applicable in their own countries. In addition, the collection of country data by the Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy will facilitate development of an international database on the implementation of national drug policies. This could be disseminated worldwide and could assist national policy-makers in comparing the performance of their country's pharmaceutical sector with that of other countries.
Finally, the indicators can be used in negotiations on drug policy among the various interested parties within a country, and also in policy discussions with external donors and international agencies concerning health sector reform. The application of these indicators over time, for example, could help demonstrate the impacts of macro-economic policy changes (such as devaluation) on the health system and on the pharmaceutical system. The indicators can provide data to enable health policy-makers argue more persuasively and coherently, helping, for instance, to ensure that the health sector and the health status of vulnerable groups are not forgotten during times of economic reform.