Pesticides in Asia

Clinical Brief – August 17th

The Brief

Suicide by pesticide is shockingly common in Asia. But after 20k locked pesticide containers were divvied out for a study, the number of “self-poisonings” barely budged.


What’s going on?

A global review estimated that 9 in 10 suicides by pesticide happened in Southeast Asia or Western Pacific regions. Places that would include Sri Lanka.

So, a group of public health researchers did a study where they took about 53k households and split them roughly down the middle. Half were given an underground, locked pesticide container; the other half carried on business as usual.

This went on for 3 years, and they counted a total of over 1,200 self-poisonings: About 610 people from households with locked containers vs about 640 people from those without. Basically, the locked containers didn’t do much to prevent suicides by pesticide.

“We found no evidence that means-reduction through improved household pesticide storage reduces pesticide self-poisoning.”

– Pearson M, et al.

Were they using the locked containers? Spot surveys said yes. Over 50% of households with locked containers locked their pesticides away either sometimes or always, vs just 5% for those without.


Lessons learned

Suicide is a complex mental condition. The fact that the method of choice is pesticide in this region is highly suggestive of a deeper cultural and psychological motive.

Simply locking away the poison won’t get rid of the underlying issues and as we saw here, won’t help save lives.

To learn more about pesticides in Asia, check out this PBS documentary:

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