Researchers have found that an outright ban on the import and sale of some hazardous pesticides may help bring down cases of suicides among farmers. Self-poisoning using pesticides is one of the three most common means of suicide worldwide according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and accounts for 14-20 per cent of all suicides. Many of these deaths occur among people who live in rural areas in low and middle-income countries, making it a major public health problem in these regions. “A worldwide ban on the use of highly hazardous pesticides is likely to prevent tens of thousands of deaths every year,” said lead author of the study David Gunnell, Professor at the University of Bristol in Britain. For the study, published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, the researchers conducted a review of literature on the effect of changing regulations to restrict access to pesticides. These include administrative interventions including restricting sales to licenced users and outright national bans on the import and sale of specific pesticides, thereby removing the most harmful pesticides from farming practice.
The study reviewed 27 studies spanning 16 countries — including five low and middle-income countries and 11 high income countries. The most common regulations applied were national bans on specific pesticides (in six countries — Jordan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Greece, South Korea and Taiwan) and sales restrictions (in five countries — India, Denmark, Ireland, the UK and the US). National bans were effective in reducing pesticide-related suicides in five of the six countries where these were evaluated (all except Greece), and were associated with falls in overall suicide rates in three of the countries (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Korea).
However, the evidence for the effectiveness of sales restrictions is less clear as the studies did not provide strong enough evidence. “Rather than focussing on safe storage, policy focus should shift towards bans on the pesticides most often used in suicide,” Gunnell said.
“This will involve identifying those most commonly contributing to suicide deaths in low and middle-income countries, and replacing them with safer, less toxic alternatives to ensure pest management is still possible and allay concerns that pesticide bans may reduce crop yields,” Gunnell added.