Pesticide poisoning: a major health problem in Sri Lanka

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Acute pesticide poisoning is a major public health problem in Sri Lanka. In several agricultural districts, it precedes all other causes of death in government hospitals. Most of the acute poisoning cases are intentional (suicide) and occur among young adults, mainly males. Poisoning due to occupational exposure is also common, but less well documented. In an irrigation area in Sri Lanka a very high incidence of serious pesticide poisoning was observed, with 68% due to intentional ingestion of liquid pesticides. It is argued that the easy availability and widespread use of highly hazardous pesticides is the most important reason for this high number of poisoning cases. The frequent application of highly hazardous pesticides in high concentrations was often irrational and posed serious health and financial risks to the farmers. Sales promotion activities and credit facilities promoted this excessive pesticide use, which was not counteracted by an agricultural extension service. Hazardous practices when spraying pesticides were due to the impossibility of applying recommended protective measures under the local conditions, rather than to lack of knowledge. Current emphasis on programs that promote the safe use of pesticides through education and training of farmers will be ineffective in Sri Lanka because knowledge is already high and most poisoning cases are intentional. Instead, enforcement of legislation to restrict availability of the most hazardous pesticides would result in an immediate health benefit. Improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control is the most important strategy, in the long term, to prevent acute pesticide poisoning.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue number4-5
Pages (from-to)495-504
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1998

Bibliographical note

Keywords: Adult; Agriculture; Female; Humans; Male; Pesticides; Poisoning; Sri Lanka; Suicide

ID: 9950985