In parts of rural Asia self-poisoning using agricultural pesticides is a serious issue. It has been estimated that up to 89% of all suicides from pesticide self-poisoning worldwide occur in the Asian and Western Pacific regions, and pesticide ingestion is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the three most important means of suicide globally. Safer household storage has long been promoted as a means of preventing deaths, but there is no concrete evidence of effectiveness, and there have been no large-scale trials that can be used to inform policies, despite the magnitude of the problem.

Prof Michael Eddleston of the University of Edinburgh (and a former Fellow of the Lister Institute) is part of a consortium that has sought to remedy this, and has recently published the results of a comprehensive study on pesticide container use by citizens in rural Sri Lanka. The paper was published in the Lancet, and is entitled Effectiveness of household lockable pesticide storage to reduce pesticide self-poisoning in rural Asia: a community-based, cluster-randomised controlled trial.

It recruited over 223,000 people living in 53,000 households to a randomised study of a lockable container to test whether improving household storage can reduce the incidence of pesticide self-poisoning. Unfortunately, it concluded that improving how pesticides are stored in the home doesn’t meaningfully reduce self-poisoning. Instead, the paper argues, alternative methods such as removing the most hazardous pesticides from agricultural practice are likely to have a bigger impact.

Studies such as this are vital to helping organisations, businesses and legislators all over the world to make more evidence-informed public health policies that help protect citizens and save lives. The Lister Institute is proud to have partially funded Prof Eddleston’s work, and this project serves as another example of how we are helping researchers to better understand and address real public health concerns that face our world today.