Global policies on access to highly hazardous pesticides — commonly ingested in acts of self-poisoning and suicide in rural Asia — should focus on national bans, rather than safe storage, according to two studies in The Lancet and The Lancet Global Health journals.
The first study is a randomised trial in 180 villages in Sri Lanka which found that secure storage had no impact on rates of self-poisoning or suicide, and the second is a review of global policies on highly hazardous pesticides which concludes that bans are the most effective way of reducing suicides.
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% of all suicides. Many of these deaths occur in people who live in rural areas in low- and middle-income countries, making it a major public health problem in these regions.
The study reviewed 27 studies spanning 16 countries – including five low- and middle-income countries and 11 high income countries.
National bans were effective in reducing pesticide-related suicides in five of the six countries where these were evaluated, 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.
“A worldwide ban on the use of highly hazardous pesticides is likely to prevent tens of thousands of deaths every year,” says lead author Professor David Gunnell, University of Bristol, UK.