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Daily News Archive
From September 13, 2006                                                                                                        

Pesticides Are a Leading Suicide Method
(Beyond Pesticides, September 13, 2006) Intentional pesticide poisoning comprises over a quarter of suicides committed globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Identifying both intentional and unintentional pesticide poisoning as a serious problem, WHO outlines the need to review and recommend improved pesticide policies, and to implement sustainable epidemiological surveillance and monitoring of pesticide poisoning.

WHO and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) marked Word Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th to focus attention and call for global action. This year's theme is "with understanding, new hope" to draw attention to the need to translate current scientific knowledge and research about suicidal behavior into practical programs.

Each year, nearly 900,000 deaths worldwide are due to suicide, which accounts for more deaths than homicides and wars combined. This number is believed to be largely underestimated as suicide as a cause of death is underreported.

Pesticide ingestion is one of the leading suicide methods. Worldwide, an estimated three million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year, resulting in an excess of 250,000 deaths. This mortality accounts for a substantial fraction of the 900,000 people who die by suicide every year. Reports suggest that it is particularly significant in rural areas.

According to a WHO factsheet:

  • In attempted suicide, which is considerably more frequent than completed suicide, pesticide poisoning results in temporary or permanent disability.
  • Intentional and unintentional pesticide poisoning has been acknowledged as a serious problem in many agricultural communities of low- and middle-income countries, including China, India, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam.
  • Efforts to develop a systematic and sustainable approach to the prevention and management of pesticide poisoning remain inadequate.

It is estimated that in the last decade between 60% and 90% of suicides in China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad were due to pesticide ingestion. More recently, WHO has received reports of a growing number of suicides due to pesticide ingestion in many other countries in Asia, as well as in countries in Central and South America.

WHO recommends control of access to pesticides, which are all too often easily accessible and stored without any precautions in most households of rural areas. Ongoing pilot studies indicate that interventions to control access to pesticides are effective and work better when integrated into more comprehensive community education programs as well as pesticide management programs.

WHO advises that in places where pesticide poisoning is frequent, there is an urgent need to train and equip primary health care personnel to manage these cases.

These WHO statistics underline the dangers of pesticides and the need for least-toxic and non-toxic pest management. While intentional exposure to pesticides is debilitating, if not deadly, unintentional agricultural and non-agricultural (e.g. lawns and schools) exposure can also have a range of serious health effects.

For more information contact:
Christine McNab
WHO Communications
Telephone: +41 22 7 91 46 88
Mobile: +41 79 2 54 68 15
E-mail: mcnabc@who.int

Source: WHO