Diseases are "biosocial realities": health problems arise not only from biological vulnerability to disease but also from complex systems of environmental risk factors. Such factors range from individual risks, such as behavior and exposure, to mid-level risks, such as neighborhood and culture, to large-scale structural risks, such as war and intellectual property regimes. Each layer of risk presents an opportunity to intervene and to modify not only individual biological and behavioral processes but also the social and structural contexts that threaten health.

Practitioners and researchers in the global health field have for decades emphasized effective biomedical interventions for improving health, often focusing on technology that addresses physiological causes and cures: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and clinical protocols designed to address the biomedical components of disease. More recently, health researchers have focused on international- and national-level determinants of health, such as international intellectual property interests, poverty and marginalization, conflict, climate change, human rights abuses, market forces, brain drain, and other social factors. Improving access to highly effective technological interventions is undoubtedly a critical priority in global health.