Nepal | July 08, 2020

Pesticide suicides: Let’s prevent them

Leah Utyasheva
Share Now:

According to the WHO, at least 20 per cent of pesticide suicides could be prevented through restricting access to poisons. Restrictions on highly hazardous pesticides will prevent suicides and save thousands of Nepali lives

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Pesticide self-poisoning is the second most common method of suicide in Nepal. Globally, out of 800,000 individuals who die from suicide each year, about 15-20 per cent die from pesticide self-poisoning. Most suicides due to pesticide ingestion happen in agricultural communities around the globe, where—as in Nepal—small-holder farming is an important source of income. Statistics on suicide are notoriously unreliable and prone to underestimation. In Nepal, the under-reporting is happening due to stigma, fear of negative consequences on the part of families, and perceived illegality of suicide attempts.

Available data for Nepal show suicide rate considerably higher than the global average—in 2012, it was 24.9 per 100,000 population compared to the global average of 11.4 per 100,000 population. Generally, the WHO estimates that its South- East Asia Region accounts for 39 per cent of global suicides, but only 26 per cent of the global population.

Pesticide suicides are usually impulsive decisions that happen at the moment of crisis, with people thinking about killing themselves for less than 10 minutes. Most people who engage in suicidal behaviour do not want to die; rather suicide serves as a response to psychosocial stressors. If a person is prevented from using a highly lethal method, s/he may use a method with lower lethality, thereby increasing the chance of survival, or the suicidal impulse may pass. Surviving a suicidal period usually allows the person to find support from family, community, and medical/ psychological services or another way to deal with the stress. Evidence from other countries suggests that removing highly toxic substances from the market significantly reduces suicide rates by giving people more time to think about their decision.

According to the WHO, at least 20 per cent of pesticide suicides could be prevented through restricting access to poisons. This approach to suicide prevention is called means restriction. In view of the WHO, this is one of the most effective methods of suicide prevention. The means restriction approach suggests that if there is no easy access to the means for suicide, more people with no longstanding desire to die will survive their crisis and find solutions to their problems.

Means restriction has proven to be highly effective in the reduction of suicide in the UK after the domestic gas supply was made less toxic. Barrier installation on bridges and railway platforms to prevent jumping in front of trains also showed to be successful in Hong Kong and other countries.

Implementing legislation to limit the use of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) in agriculture has been a highly successful approach to suicide reduction, reducing the overall suicide numbers in countries where small-scale farming is common, such as Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, banning certain HHPs has led to major reductions in case-fatality for pesticide poisoning and suicides, resulting in a 70 per cent reduction in the suicide rate over 20 years.

In Nepal, as in other agricultural societies, where small-holder farmers use highly toxic substances to increase farm productivity, the wide availability of highly toxic pesticides makes them an easy option to be used for poisoning at the moment of crises.

In comparison with high-income countries, where agricultural strength toxins are only available to licensed workers, in low income countries, strong pesticides are freely sold in shops and are frequently stored at home. Unlike low toxicity substances commonly used for poisoning in the West many of these pesticides are highly lethal if ingested. This means that fatality of self-poisoning is much higher in agricultural communities such as Nepal than in other countries.

Restricting access to the means of suicide (ie banning and removing HHPs from agricultural practice through legislation and importation limitations, and otherwise reducing availability) is the most effective way to prevent deaths due to pesticide self-poisoning. This is especially true where the intent is low, and pesticide poisoning a common means of suicide. Implementing legislation to limit the use of HHPs in agriculture has been a highly successful approach to suicide reduction, reducing overall suicide numbers in countries where small-scale farming is common.

To facilitate a means restriction approach to suicide prevention in Nepal, a two-year research project has begun to identify which HHPs are most commonly used for suicide, and to implement a stricter regulation to them. The research is conducted by the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention (CPSP)—an initiative of the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the Nepal Public Health Foundation with ethical approval of the
Nepal Health Research Council. At present 10 hospitals across Nepal are involved, with a further three hospitals about to be included. Researchers collect anonymized data from hospital records about pesticide poisoned patients to find out chemical compounds that are involved in poisoning.

This research initiative opens up an opportunity for the Government of Nepal to make a significant contribution to national suicide prevention, supporting the government’s target to reduce the national suicide rate by 2020.

Utyasheva is policy director of Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention at University of Edinburgh


A version of this article appears in print on September 10, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.


Follow The Himalayan Times on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Stories:

More from The Himalayan Times:

Transport entrepreneurs deposit vehicle keys at banks in Pokhara

POKHARA: After failing to deposit the loan installment in the wake of extended lockdown, transport entrepreneurs handed-over vehicle keys to bank officials in Pokhara, on Monday. As many as ninety entrepreneurs associated with Prithvi Highway Bus Association handed over the keys to officials Read More...

175 suicide deaths in Sudurpaschim during lockdown

DADELDHURA, JULY 6 As many as 175 people have died by suicide during the nationwide lockdown in Sudurpaschim Province. Police said that suicide deaths have been reported from all nine districts of the province from March 24 till date. Police said suicide deaths were more common among males com Read More...

Journalists feted

KATHMANDU: The Ministry of Youth and Sports on Monday honoured four sports journalists with sports journalism awards. Minister Jagat Bahadur Sunar and Secretary Ram Prasad Thapaliya handed over appreciation letters along with Rs 50,000 each to Dhruba Kumar Tuladhar, Roshan Singh Raut, Keshav Read More...

Indiana Black man demands probe into attempted lynching

KATHMANDU: Indiana man Vauhxx Booker claimed that he was attacked by a group of white people for tresspassing through a private property to get to Lake Monroe, on Saturday. The attackers threatened to “get a noose” after claiming that he and his friends had trespassed on private property as Read More...

After Madhav Nepal, Chinese ambassador Hou Yanqi meets NCP's Jhalanath Khanal on Tuesday

KATHMANDU: Ambassador of China to Nepal Hou Yanqi has reportedly met with senior NCP leader Jhalanath Khanal today. This is the second instance in three days wherein the Chinese envoy met with a senior ruling party leader as disputes within the NCP (NCP) are at an all time high. A close source to Read More...

Oli and Dahal

Oli-Dahal hold yet another 'one-to-one' on Tuesday

KATHMANDU: In a series of one-to-one meetings held to iron out 'factional' differences, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP)'s co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal held a one-to-one, yet again, on Tuesday, attempting to reach a consensus. The meeting held between the two cha Read More...

netanyahu

Israel can bypass parliament on virus decisions

JERUSALEM: The Israeli parliament has passed an emergency bill allowing the government to bypass it in making immediate decisions on combating a renewed outbreak of the coronavirus. Parliament voted early Tuesday to sidestep its own committees so that government decisions could go into immediate Read More...

Harvard doctor says US should issue mandatory mask order across all states

KATHMANDU: A Harvard University doctor says the United States needs to issue a mandatory order in all 50 states to wear masks in public places to battle the spread of Covid-19 infection. Dr Ashish Jha, director of Harvard Global Health Institute, during an interview with NBC's Today, claimed that Read More...