Water Sanitation Health

Safe disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals in and after emergencies

Interagency guidelines


World Health Organization, Churches’ Action for Health of the World Council of Churches, ECHO International Health Services Ltd et al.

During conflicts and natural disasters large quantities of pharmaceuticals are often donated as part of humanitarian assistance. Undoubtedly many of the pharmaceuticals save lives and alleviate suffering, but some donations given by well-meaning but uninformed people may cause problems. Pharmaceuticals may arrive past or near their expiry date, may be inappropriate for the needs. Donated pharmaceuticals with a long shelf-life may be mismanaged. Staff and storage space may be lacking and the pharmaceutical management system in disarray.

Such problems also occur when drug donations form part of development assistance. Smaller quantities of pharmaceutical waste may accumulate in the absence of emergency situations, due to inadequacies in stock management and distribution, and to lack of a routine system of disposal. Safe disposal of these unwanted or expired drugs often creates a major problem.

These disposal guidelines are based on a report on the safe disposal of unwanted and unusable drugs in Mostar, which had accumulated during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.