Background: Oxytocin injection is the first line therapy for the prevention and treatment of postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), the leading cause of maternal mortality. Currently access to high quality oxytocin in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) is compromised by variable manufacturing quality and the requirement for cold chain supply and storage to prevent product deterioration. Previous studies of oxytocin ampoules sampled from Africa, the region with highest maternal mortality rates, indicate that over half do not contain the specified amount of oxytocin. International efforts continue to further understand the issues relating to oxytocin quality in LMICs and this study is the first to assess oxytocin quality in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country that bears one of the highest global rates of maternal mortality (693 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births). Importantly, the study methodology includes the use of investigative analytical techniques to understand the cause of quality deficiencies and inform remedial measures.
Methods: The study involved sampling of oxytocin injection ampoules from public and private health care facilities (n = 15) in urban and rural areas within five provinces of the DRC. Where available, each sample comprised 20 ampoules of oxytocin injection (10 IU/mL) with smaller numbers collected where supplies were limited. Sample collection used overt sampling and mystery shopper approaches, as appropriate. Analysis of ampoules for oxytocin content and known degradation products utilised validated HPLC and LCMS methods, respectively. Sterility testing was conducted in accordance with the United States Pharmacopeia monograph.
Results: Eighty percent of ampoules collected contained less than 90% of the specified content. Known degradation products of oxytocin were identified, indicating likely exposure to elevated temperatures post-manufacture. All samples contained an unknown impurity at a level of approximately 12.3% (8.0-20.5%) of the oxytocin main band peak. No samples failed sterility testing.
Conclusions: There is evidence of a high prevalence of poor quality oxytocin ampoules in health facilities in the DRC likely resulting from both manufacturing quality issues and uncontrolled storage. A more comprehensive post-marketing surveillance study of oxytocin quality is warranted.