Researchers estimated what suicide rates may have been in 2011-14 based on the previous years’ trends, and then compared those projections to the actual numbers for that period. They found 20,146 fewer male and 8,418 fewer female suicides by pesticide than expected.
Much of the decline, though, was offset by a parallel increase in suicides by hanging and other methods of poisoning, the study found, resulting in a much smaller dip in the overall cases. Among men, 92% of the decline in pesticide suicides was offset by an increase in other methods, especially hanging.
“The findings suggest that banning (pesticides) helps reduce suicides, but other methods also have to be tackled,” said Vikas Arya, researcher at the Translational Health Research Institute in Australia and the study’s lead author.
The rising trend in hanging predates the 2011ban, and is unlikely to be a substitute for pesticide ingestion, said Arya. He and other researchers say urbanisation and media coverage may be contributing to the increase in hanging.
Underreporting of suicides, especially in rural areas, may also be distorting the picture. A recent analysis by Arya and others found that age-adjusted suicide rates from the National Crime Record Bureau were 37% lower than estimates from the Global Burden of Disease Study.
Asian countries such as Sri Lanka have seen major declines in suicide rates after pesticide bans. A new World Health Organisation (WHO)- funded modelling study for 14 countries, including China and India, found that bans on highly hazardous pesticides are a cost-effective method of suicide reduction.
The analysis, published Thursday, found that enacting national bans on such pesticides across the 14 countries could result in 28,000 fewer suicides each year at an annual cost of $0.007 per capita. This decrease equates to a potential 6.5% reduction in suicide deaths among these 14 countries by 2030, the study said.
“The more important pesticide suicides are in any country, the more cost-effective it will be,” said WHO study co-author Michael Eddleston, director of the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention at the University of Edinburgh, adding that this would work for “low intent” pesticide suicides.
Another analysis by Eddleston and others this year also found a decline in India’s pesticide suicides after the 2011 endosulfan ban, with sharp falls in Kerala, where over 10 pesticides have been banned in recent years. The study found no impact on farm output.
The size of the national decline was surprising, said Eddleston, given that the ban was on just one pesticide, and not a commonly used one in suicides. “The recent bans should have a bigger impact,” he said. India banned 18 highly toxic pesticides in 2018.
Much of the decline, though, was offset by a parallel increase in suicides by hanging and other methods of poisoning.