Sri Lanka model is the most viable strategy to tackle pesticide suicide and should be adopted here

Dear Editor,

Please permit us to share a few facts in response to an article `Decriminalise suicide, it’s a cry for help’ in the Jan 22 issue of Kaieteur News.

Last year a motion to decriminalize attempted suicide was debated in parliament and supported in principle by both sides of the house but voted against by the government so as not to allow the Opposition to ‘score political points’. The Caribbean Voice, in a letter to the media suggested that the bill be sent to committee to thrash out something acceptable at a bipartisan level that would not water down the necessary mechanisms for suicide prevention. Another suggestion would be to set up a broad-based committee that includes the government, opposition, civil society and NGO stakeholders to rework the motion and have it jointly sponsored by a member of the government and a member of the opposition. Nothing to date.

Secondly, while no stats were given at the press conference of Jan 19, The Caribbean Voice has constantly been putting out stats and facts on suicide in Guyana and thus we were a bit puzzled that KN continued to quote PAHO/WHO Director, Dr. William Adu-Krow’s inaccurate figure that the suicide rate had plummeted to 20.6 per 100,000 people in 2015 as well as the inaccurate stat that the 2012 suicide rate was 44.2 per 100,000 people,

In a letter to the media last year The Caribbean Voice had clarified both these inaccuracies. Please permit us to quote from that letter, published in the KN on November 15, 2017:

“Recently The Caribbean Voice received the following message from Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, former PPP/C Minister of Health.

“When I was Minister of Health, I openly disagreed with them (WHO) on suicide…We have averaged between 140 and 170 deaths in my time as minister (2001 to 2011). The rate was between 18 and 25 per 100,000.

“I have argued that while Guyana has a troubling high rate, our rate is not nearly as high as what WHO used to say – 44 per 100,000. I used to challenge them to find the extra 100 to 150 deaths they were claiming. “Their justification is that they made adjustments to cater for the underreporting, (estimated by WHO to be 25% globally) which they could not verify.

“It is interesting that when our actual deaths in the 1980 were over 250 they were actually reporting less than 150.”

So The Caribbean Voice did some digging and this is what emerged:

Clearly the 2012 figure is an anomaly, especially given that the only adjustment actually made by the WHO is from crude rate to age-standardized suicide rate, to eliminate the effect of differences in population age structures when comparing crude rates for different periods of time, different geographic areas and/or different population sub-groups. Thus the 2015 crude rate of 29.0 was adjusted to 30.6.

Whatever led to this apparent anomaly, it presents a skewed picture that makes the work of suicide prevention NGOs and activists that much more difficult, besides seeming to imply that with such a significant rate reduction, the government does not need to ramp up resources to tackle suicide.

That PAHO rep Dr. Adu-Krow was quoted a number of times in certain sections of the media as stating that the 2015 rate was 20.6 is even more puzzling and despite The Caribbean Voice’s suggested that Dr. Adu-Krow, may have been misquoted, he has not, to date, provided any public clarifying statement.”

Finally in 2015, just prior to the elections, the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals (Control) Board (PTCCB) met with The Caribbean Voice, the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, the Rights of the Child Commission and a couple of other stakeholders to discuss the possibility of adopting the Sri Lanka Hazard Reduction Model that had reduced pesticide suicide in that nation by about 50% in about a decade for which The Caribbean Voice had been lobbying. An undertaking was given by the PTCCB to roll out such a policy a few months down the road but a change of government came in May 2015 and that undertaking was apparently scrapped. The Sri Lanka Hazard Reduction Model is still the most viable and results oriented strategy to tackle pesticide suicide anywhere and we strongly believe that it needs to be adopted and implemented in Guyana, especially, since all other measures thus far have failed miserably.

Yours faithfully,

Annan Boodram

The Caribbean Voice

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