Alternatives or complete ban? Health authorities want to control misuse of pesticides
Though useful for killing weeds and harmful insects, pesticides and other toxic chemicals have been linked to suicide and suicide attempts particularly in farming communities locally.
Now, local health authorities are mulling whether less-lethal chemicals should be imported, or whether there should be a complete ban.
At the sidelines of an event commemorating World Mental Health day on Tuesday, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony acknowledged that the misuse of pesticides remains a challenge despite laws that seek to control the sale, storage and use of the chemicals.
With new pieces of legislation seeking to overhaul mental health promotion and suicide prevention efforts in Guyana, the Health Minster said there is much conversation on what should be done to tackle the misuse of the chemicals.
“… what we need to do is if we are bringing in a particular pesticide in the country, then we also need to make sure that we have an antidote to that pesticide,” he suggested.
That antidote would help to reverse the poisoning process and ultimately, save someone’s life.
He also said that the authorities are examining the feasibility of importing less-lethal chemicals that are still effective in exterminating weeds and insects but not fatal for humans.
These decisions cannot be made by the Health Ministry alone, however. Dr. Anthony noted that the Pesticide and Toxic Chemicals Control Board and the Ministry of Agriculture are integrally involved.
Despite the usefulness of these toxic chemicals in food production, the Health Minister does not believe that there will be opposition to increased safety measures or decisions.
“I think everybody would like to see a reduction in suicide and if this is one way that we can reduce suicide by importing less lethal forms of insecticides and pesticides, then I’m sure people would want to embrace that,” he said.
Importantly, international bodies such as the Pan- American Health Organization (PAHO) are also involved. And PAHO, for one, has a strong position on the matter.
“In the case of Guyana with the high rates of suicide… some decision based on evidence should be taken to ban some of the more dangerous pesticides from the market,” Dr. Luis Codina, the organisation’s representative to Guyana, said.
Dr. Codina acknowledged that there ongoing discussions in this regard, led by Guyana’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Narine Singh.
In 2018, it was reported that about 70 per cent of suicide deaths (which average between 150 to 200 annually) in Guyana, are as a result of the ingestion of toxic chemicals used in the agricultural sector.
Both Dr. Anthony and Dr. Codina underscored that the misuse of the chemicals must be combatted.