Michael Eddleston is a professor of Clinical Toxicology at the University of Edinburg with over two decades of experience in suicide by ingesting pesticide. He is also the director of Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention and was recently in Nepal as a principal investigator of a research analysing self-poisoning in the country. Excerpts of his conversation with Nepali Times.
Nepali Times: What is pesticide suicide?
Michael Eddleston: All of us feel suicidal from time to time. Unless you are very depressed or have a mental illness, you survive the feeling and move on with your life. The green revolution brought highly toxic pesticides into homes that people drank in the moment of impulse without a second thought.
Suicide rates went up massively in Asia because spontaneous acts of self-harm became lethal. These are accidental suicides, people don’t really want to die, drinking pesticide or a poison in many parts of Asia is an expression of anger or frustration.
What is the burden of pesticide suicide in the region?
Pesticide suicides have killed some 15 million people, mostly in this region of South and East Asia since the 1960s. The numbers have come down to about 150,000 people a year. China alone used to have 180,000 pesticide suicides per year back in the 1990s and it has come down to 50,000, partly due to mechanisation and restriction of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHP). In Nepal, 15-20% of suicides are from ingesting pesticides and about 1,000 people die every year.