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Feature Suicide Prevention

Despite historic bans, south Asia still struggles with pesticide suicides

BMJ 2023 ; 381 doi: (Published 11 April 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;381:p678
  1. Sonia Sarkar , freelance journalist
  1. Delhi, India
  1. 26.sarkar{at}

Death by suicide by male farmers has long plagued south Asia, with experts wondering if bans on pesticides are enough. Sonia Sarkar reports

In 2013, for 10 acres of land in the drought affected village of Bhutibahal, in the east Indian state of Odisha, Himanshu Bag’s father took several loans amounting to Rs500 000 (£4900; €5600; $6100) to grow paddy. But the farm didn’t yield the produce that he expected. Overburdened with debt, his father was unable to cope with the disappointment and took his own life. He drank pesticide found at home, and, although he was rushed to hospital, he didn’t survive.

“The pesticide didn’t really increase the yield of the farm, but it certainly killed my father,” Bag told The BMJ. “There are many vulnerable farmers like my father who are tempted to end their lives by drinking pesticides because they are easily available. That one moment of helplessness is often difficult to overcome.”

The World Health Organization reports that almost one in five of all deaths by suicide worldwide (some 800 000 a year) are from pesticide poisoning, mostly in low and middle income countries. 1 The problem is such that several Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, 2 India, 3 Bangladesh, 4 and Nepal, 5 have imposed bans on highly hazardous pesticides. 6 This has had a great effect: in Bangladesh, for example, of 311 208 “unnatural deaths” recorded between …

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