Paraquat needs to be tightly reg­u­lated, not banned

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

health and at agri­cul­ture, we in­tro­duced sev­eral ini­tia­tives as part of a strat­egy for the safe pro­cure­ment, stor­age and use at the lo­cal level. These in­cluded the fol­low­ing:

The Min­istry of Health be­came en­gaged in the aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes pro­mot­ing the ef­fec­tive and safe use of toxic chem­i­cals. It be­came a ma­jor pub­lic health initiative. This initiative has es­sen­tially come to an end and for sev­eral years now I have been painfully dis­ap­pointed that the Min­istry of Health has be­come a non­player in this area.

The Min­istry of Health part­nered with the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture in pro­mot­ing the safe pro­cure­ment, stor­age and use of toxic chem­i­cals. To­gether, we cre­ated a vi­brant pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ship. Sev­eral of the ma­jor im­porters worked with us and de­vel­oped com­mu­nity aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes, TV and ra­dio pro­grammes. NAREI (Na­tional Agri­cul­tural Re­search and Ex­ten­sion In­sti­tute), GRDB (Guyana Rice De­vel­op­ment Board), the PTCCB (Pes­ti­cides and Toxic Chem­i­cals (Con­trol) Board) had reg­u­lar field school pro­grammes with farm­ers and their fam­i­lies and other com­mu­nity mem­bers for the safe use of toxic chem­i­cals. I was present at many of these ses­sions. While I know some of these have con­tin­ued at the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, the ag­gres­sive­ness with which these ses­sions are pur­sued has be­come cold.

As part of the ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness pro­grammes, we held work­shops with shop own­ers for the re­spon­si­ble sale of pes­ti­cides and toxic chem­i­cals. The idea was that shop own­ers should only sell these chem­i­cals to peo­ple they know have use for them and to main­tain a reg­is­ter of per­sons who bought chem­i­cals. If this pro­gramme is still in place, there is only a luke­warm ap­proach.

The Safe Stor­age Pro­gramme was first in­tro­duced when I was Min­is­ter of Health back in 2003. PAHO/WHO was sup­port­ive. In this initiative we pushed for safety cab­i­nets (lock-boxes) for the stor­age of pes­ti­cides and other toxic chem­i­cals. The idea was for the farm­ers to have stor­age cab­i­nets at home which have mul­ti­ple locks, each lock be­ing con­trolled by dif­fer­ent fam­ily mem­bers. The goal was that anytime the use of these chem­i­cals was for a le­git­i­mate use, more than one fam­ily mem­ber is in­volved in the ac­cess to the chem­i­cal. The Min­istry of Health had dis­trib­uted about 100 of these cab­i­nets by 2011. The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture started to dis­trib­ute free cab­i­nets in 2012 and the in­ten­tion was to dis­trib­ute about 100 an­nu­ally. We had urged the pri­vate sec­tor and NGOs to be­come in­volved in this initiative. The up­take by the pri­vate sec­tor and the NGOs was poor. My in­for­ma­tion is this pro­gramme has been ter­mi­nated.

The Farm Reg­is­tra­tion and Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gramme was in­tro­duced at NAREI. This would have en­abled a sys­tem that among other things would have pro­vided a spe­cial ID that would have re­stricted the use of paraquat and other toxic chem­i­cals.

These ini­tia­tives be­came linked to the gate­keep­ers pro­gramme. Gate­keep­ers were fa­mil­iar­ized with the laws and the safe and ef­fec­tive use of pes­ti­cides and toxic chem­i­cals. We wanted them to be­come fa­mil­iar with all those who sold chem­i­cals in their com­mu­ni­ties and to keep a close re­la­tion­ship so that they can be in­formed if any in­ap­pro­pri­ate pur­chase was made. The gate­keep­ers pro­gramme is not presently in place, although an NGO, Caribbean Voice, is presently putting a sim­i­lar pro­gramme in place.

Guyana im­ports about 155 tons of paraquat an­nu­ally. There is still a small amount of smug­gled paraquat that en­ters via Suri­name, Brazil and Venezuela. Paraquat is a pes­ti­cide that is widely used by farm­ers in Guyana and around the world. There is no doubt that paraquat is an af­ford­able, ef­fec­tive pes­ti­cide. It is very dif­fi­cult for farm­ers to find an equally ef­fec­tive and af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive. The af­ford­able avail­abil­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of paraquat is a bless­ing to farm­ers and in agri­cul­ture. For most coun­tries, the avail­abil­ity of and ac­ces­si­bil­ity to paraquat play an im­por­tant and in­dis­pens­able role in sus­tained agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion.

The prob­lem is that paraquat has also been a chem­i­cal used in sui­cide in Guyana and in many coun­tries around the world. Sui­cide con­tin­ues to be a grow­ing pub­lic health prob­lem in Guyana and glob­ally. Glob­ally, more than a mil­lion peo­ple die each year. Of this num­ber about 20 to 30% (ap­prox­i­mately 200,000) of sui­cide deaths are caused by pes­ti­cide in­ges­tion. In Guyana, between 150 and 200 peo­ple die each year be­cause of sui­cide and about 70% of these deaths are caused by pes­ti­cide in­ges­tion. While Sui­cide is a ma­jor cause of death among young peo­ple in ev­ery coun­try, un­for­tu­nately, Guyana is one of the most af­fected coun­tries for sui­cide-linked deaths.

I can­not claim ex­per­tise in what are the causes for sui­cide and that I know defini­tively what we can do to elim­i­nate sui­cide as a ma­jor cause of death and dis­abil­ity. But one thing I do know is that re­strict­ing the use of paraquat in Guyana might make it more dif­fi­cult for it to be used in the sui­cide path­way. Means re­stric­tion is a key el­e­ment of sui­cide preven­tion strate­gies. Re­strict­ing ac­cess to com­mon and highly lethal meth­ods of sui­cide can re­duce both method-spe­cific and all-cause sui­cide rates. Such ap­proaches for pes­ti­cide self-poi­son­ing in­clude ad­min­is­tra­tive in­ter­ven­tions al­ter­ing be­hav­iour (par­tic­u­larly the pur­chase, use, and stor­age of pes­ti­cides) and in­ter­ven­tions al­ter­ing the avail­abil­ity of highly haz­ardous pes­ti­cides in the com­mu­nity. Yours faith­fully, Dr. Les­lie Ram­sammy For­mer Min­is­ter of Health, Agri­cul­ture

Let­ters con­tin­ued on page 9

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