WHO/UNICEF Study on the Stability of Drugs During International Transport. Essential Drugs Monitor No. 011 (1991)
(1991; 1 page)


The WHO Action Programme on Essential Drugs and UNICEF conducted a study to determine whether current shipment protocols for essential drugs transported by sea had adverse effects on drug quality or potency. In a controlled study, three shipments of 11 essential drugs from Copenhagen to Lagos and Mombasa and from Kampala (via overland from Mombasa) to Bangkok were monitored every three hours for changes in temperature and relative humidity. Once at their final destinations, drugs were analyzed for changes in quality and potency. The drugs chosen for the study were known to be unstable, of high UNICEF volume or value turnover, and of medical relevance based on previous studies. On all three travel routes, temperature and relative humidity rose steadily on trips to tropical waters. When stopped in tropical harbors, the test packs experienced high temperatures, high humidity, and moderate fluctuations. On land, the packs experienced high temperature, high humidity, and strong fluctuations. Recorded temperatures in the drug test packs were considerably higher than recommended maximum value of 30 degrees Celcius and temperatures inside the packs were generally 10-26% higher than ambient air temperature. Drug analysis following shipment showed that only three of the 11 drugs lost any potency and only two of the drugs that lost potency had medical or practical consequences. Two important findings from this study were that no antibiotics showed instability during transport and that high humidity had a more damaging effect than high temperatures. Further studies on drug stability during overland transport within tropical countries were being conducted by the WHO at the time of the article. (Abstract by Flannery Bowman, 2013)

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