A 2014 National Forensic Science Laboratory study that looked at the trends of clinical toxicology cases in Nepal from 2002-2012 showed that of the total poisoning cases due to insecticides, 71% were by ingesting the organophosphorus compounds Metacid (Methyl parathion) and Nuvan (Dichlorovos). Pyrethroid, carbamate and organochlorine were also used. Some of these pesticides are actually banned in Nepal, but available over the counter.
A Central Police Forensic Science Laboratory study conducted over the past three years shows organophosphorus compounds and aluminium phosphide as the most common active ingredients in poisoning cases. Data from seven tertiary hospitals across Nepal found Celphos (aluminium phosphide used to kill rodents) as the most common pesticide in those admitted for poisoning.
The Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Nepal Public Health Foundation is collecting three years worth of hospital and forensic data to analyse self-poisoning. Prof Michael Eddleston of the University of Edinburgh is the principal investigator and was recently in Nepal.
“I don’t think it’s ever possible to use pesticide safely. You have to make pesticides non-toxic to humans, animals and the environment. We are trying to identify the problematic pesticides that are killing people here and provide that information to the concerned authorities so that they are banned and replaced with safer pesticides,” Eddleston told Nepali Times.
The Nepal Public Health Foundation is also organising a two-day national conference (9-10 January) focussed on healthy farming and reducing pesticide use.
Indeed Bangladesh, Korea and Sri Lanka have shown that removing highly hazardous pesticides from agricultural practice is key to preventing suicide deaths without affecting agricultural output. The good news is that some of the most toxic pesticides are being banned in Nepal.
In 2019, when the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention pinpointed Dichlorvos and 3g tablets of aluminium phosphide as the most common causes of pesticide suicide in Nepal, the Plant Quarantine and Pesticide Management Centre placed a ban on both the pesticides, to be enforced after a grace period of two years for the chemicals already on the market.
Similarly, before Metacid (Methyl parathion) was prohibited in 2006, up to 68% of Nepalis killing themselves were using the chemical. After the ban, this figure came down to 8%.
“Prevention is better than cure and that is exactly what pesticide ban does. And this has a double benefit: it reduces suicide death while also bringing down the rampant use of pesticides in agriculture, leading to a decline in pesticide residue,” adds Sharma, who retired after banning the two pesticides.
Despite the ban, however, the smuggling of pesticides across the open border with India remains a challenge, and experts call for crossborder cooperation to fight it.
Says Rakesh Ghimire of Teaching Hospital: “Control of pesticides especially in agricultural areas is important, but as important is pesticide information centres and treatment when the poisoning happens.”