Nigerians have decried the recent ban on the sale of pesticide, especially Sniper and other agricultural formulations in the open market following increased cases of suicide and misuse of the products.
They told newsmen in Lagos that the ban might not help in reducing incidences of suicide, adding that it would affect the daily bread of some people who depend on the sale of the insecticide.
According to them, the ban will not tackle suicide as there are other ways to end one’s life.
Also, they expressed the belief that it would also not solve the underlying mental health conditions that led to the use of poisonous or other means for people to take their lives.
The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had on July 11, announced the ban on the sale of the pesticide and other agricultural formulations or dichotomous which is from the class of the Organophosphate chemicals that were poisoning in nature and dangerous to human health.
Mr Bayo Akinlade, the Chairman, Ikorodu branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), told NAN that the regulatory organisation had a very lax system of control of the regulation of food and drugs in the country.
Akinlade said due to the poor control of food and drugs by NAFDAC, the ban on Sniper would not be effectively enforced, rather it would thrive in the black market.
“The problem with NAFDAC is that they have no control; there are some drugs that are on prescription only, but they are being sold over the counter.
“NAFDAC has never done its job well; it just gets some sort of confirmation from these pharmaceutical companies, give them a NAFDAC number and everybody has to take care of themselves.
“I have a case at the moment, and I went to do some researches. I discovered that NAFDAC does not do any control.
“Each drug has a prescription pamphlet on how it should be sold or distributed, NAFDAC does not follow through on that as well.
“NAFDAC can ban Sniper as they want, people will still get a hold of it; they just made it much more expensive to purchase,’’ he said.
A Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Tomi Imarah, said that the ban was not going to be effective in Nigeria if done in isolation.
Imarah, who runs an online mental health service, “Dr Tomi Haven’’, said that there was a need to engage in a different approach to media coverage of suicide stories.
“The sensationalism of suicide on mainstream and social media can occur through repeated reportage.
“It can also occur through the extensive and dramatic description of methods of suicide, underreporting of the role of mental illnesses, overemphasis on the use of suicide as an escape from life problems and so on.
“When we continue along these paths, suicide rates will not decline, even in the face of restrictions or bans on pesticides.
“Many people did not know about Sniper’s ability to terminate life and how accessible its procurement was until it was all over the news.
“If Sniper is banned and the attention shifts to a new method of suicide, you will quickly see a steady rise in the use of that method as well,’’ Imarah said.
She urged media to lend a helping hand to suicide prevention efforts by focussing more time on raising mental health awareness, publicising warning signs of suicidal behaviour.
Imarah said: “The media should emphasise the treatability of mental illnesses, and publish lists of mental health services and helplines in the country.’’
Also, Mr Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer and human rights activist, described the ban on Sniper as a “spontaneous reaction’’.
According to him, the ban will be ineffective if the root causes that indicate why Nigerians resort to suicide is not adequately addressed by the government.
Ogunye said: “When in a country there is usually a spontaneous reaction to issues that require very deep thinking, introspection and reflection for us to know exactly what we need to do, we will continually get things wrong.
“Now that Sniper has been banned by NAFDAC, if an individual is driven to commit suicide, won’t that person look for other means to commit suicide? What will the ban on Sniper now achieve?
“NAFDAC at a time banned the importation of Codeine because of drug abuse. When Codeine was banned, what of Hemp and other alternative hard drugs that were available?
“If the purpose of the ban on Sniper is to reduce the suicide rate in Nigeria, I do not think NAFDAC is going to succeed. We must address the root cause or reasons why Nigerians are resorting to suicide.
“NAFDAC and government at various levels, in particular, have to think about social provisions, economic prosperity, mental health issues and other issues that make people so vulnerable to contemplating suicide.’’
However, lauding the ban on Sniper, another lawyer, Mr Ademola Adewale, said that NAFDAC’s decision was justifiable because it was in the interest of public health and safety.
“The ban is justified, especially as it has been shown that Sniper had been fingered as the substance used in a number of suicide cases.
“No fundamental right is absolute, and any government is allowed to take certain decisions in the interest of public health, peace and welfare.
“If the authorities have seen verifiable data that Sniper is being used in instances that it was not intended, then, the government is right to ban it,’’ he said.
Commenting, a Medical Researcher, Dr Bamidele Iwalokun, urged the three tiers of government to create awareness and educate Nigerians on the health impact of sniper which could help to address and reduce the increasing rate of suicides.
Iwalokun, Head, Immunology and Vaccinology Research Department, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, told NAN that Sniper was bad to use in Nigeria.
According to him, the use was never regulated and its risk of high exposure is high in Nigeria.
“It is increasingly being reported that Sniper is being used as an insecticide against mosquitoes indoor in houses as a preventive measure against malaria in both Northern and Southern Nigeria.
“Sniper also known as Dichlorvos shortened as DDVP (dimethyl dichlorovinylphosphate) is a liquid organophosphate used intentionally as an insecticide to kill insects and pests. It is thus used for pests control to protect agricultural products.
“First, we should know that dichlorvos negative health effects will start occurring at a concentration as low as 0.5 mg/m3.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a tolerable limit of 1mg/m3 for dichlorvos, and this organophosphate was banned in Europe in 1998.
“From an occupational health and safety viewpoint, workers should not be exposed to even sub-lethal dose of dichlorvos for more than four hours per day.
“This is currently not considered in our biosafety policy in settings where Sniper is used to killing insects or bugs such as the laboratory, canteen and stores,’’ Iwalokun said.
He said that in rat, dichlorvos had been reported to cause birth defects. In Mice, sperm motility was affected following exposure.
“In children and adolescents, dichlorvos has been reported to be a major cause of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which an estimated 51.1 million people currently suffer from globally.
“Dichlorvos has also been listed as a class B2 carcinogen, meaning that it has the potential to cause cancer.
“The adverse effects caused by dichlorvos have been attributed to its neurotoxicity, cardiotoxicity and lethal effects on the respiratory system.
“It acts as an insecticide by inhibiting an enzyme called acetycholine esterase, paralyzing nerves and body systems.
“When the brain is toxically affected, symptoms like headache, blurred vision, iris constriction and anxiety, as well as complications such as convulsion and coma, are experienced,’’ Iwalokun said.
He added that the higher the exposure to dichlorvos, the higher the risk of complications and deaths in humans.
“When the blood vessels and heart are exposed to dichlorvos, hypertension and arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) can be experienced.
“Dichlorvos can also cause nose and throat irritation, and it can induce coughing, wheezing and sneezing,’’ the medical researcher said.
He said that the best solution was what NAFDAC did by banning the use of Sniper in the country.
“Governments needs to do more by providing a poison centre or poison unit within the tertiary hospitals in every state of the country.
“Sniper poisoning should be treated as an emergency to save a life. The use of Sniper for malaria prevention should be banned and enforced with punitive measures to offenders.
“The use of physical and light traps for insects should be encouraged which can serve as an alternative to Sniper.
“There should be environmental monitoring of Sniper in our waterways, foodstuff, agricultural produce and irrigation water.
“Tolerable limit for Sniper should be set, and backed by law, policy, guidelines, monitoring programmes and enforcement,’’ Iwalokun said.
Speaking, Dr Raphael Ogbolu, a Consultant Psychiatrist, said that the ban on the sale of Sniper would not stop suicide, noting, but it was a good start.
Ogbolu said that NAFDAC and other agencies should look at how to tackle other means people could use and also focus on the causes.
“NAFDAC has done its bit based on what is under its purview, other stakeholders should continue to address what falls under their jurisdiction.
“Banning Sniper would help to limit the available means of suicide; it is a globally accepted approach and one of the keys to prevention.
“Each country will be guided by local trends and certainly Sniper has become a popular trend of committing suicide in Nigeria.
“The ban targets households which is good, but it should not be used outside of the farm pesticide purpose for which it appears originally intended,’’ he said.
Another Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Kafayah Ogunsola, said that reducing the spate of suicide would involve tackling many pertinent issues, including raising awareness about mental health disorders.
Ogunsola, the Chief Executive Officer of an online mental health advocacy platform, Empathyspaceng, said that mental disorders, particularly depression, remained the single largest contributor to suicide.
“Also, it is important to make people aware of where to get help for their illness and removing the stigma around mental illness, as it has been successfully done with illnesses like HIV infection.
“Stigma is one of the foremost reasons why people refused to speak up about their illness, much less get help for it, because they are afraid of being labelled ‘mad’ or crazy’ by others.
“As people, we need to understand that such words, crazy, mad and insane, have no relationship with mental illnesses in the real sense of the matter,’’ she said.
Ogunsola said that the way forward was for the government to pay attention to mental health as issues of mental health was currently on the front burner in the country.
According to her, passing the mental health bill, for instance, should be the starting point.
“With a Mental Health Bill, issues relating to patient care, access to, funding of care, availability and evenness in the distribution of mental health facilities in Nigeria and professionals within the facilities will be taken care of.
“It will also ensure the protection of patients’ rights, including the right to getting employment and not to be relieved of their jobs, because they have a mental illness.
“The rights of the professionals will also be protected, and opportunities for continuous training of these specialists will be covered by the Mental Health Bill if it is passed into law today.
“This will go a long way in ensuring that average Nigerians get professional help for their mental health challenges,’’ Ogunsola said.
Another psychiatrist, Dr Afeez Enifeni, urged the government to fund institutions that have mental health professionals, ensure laws were up-to-date, attempted suicide should not be seen as a crime, but a cry for help.
Enifeni, a resident doctor at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, said: “Government should ensure there is multi-sectorial, interpersonal coordination and cooperation.
“If people attempt to take their lives, they can be referred to the appropriate quarters to know why and help their mental conditions, if any.
“Generally, substances such as Sniper and other dangerous substances should be regulated and monitored effectively,’’ he said.
Reacting, the Lagos State Government called for the licencing of all harmful chemicals in order to make access to these chemicals more difficult.
Also, Dr Titilayo Goncalves, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, said that mental health had not been given enough prominence as it should be.
“Many students who have graduated have no jobs and instead of thinking that this is just a bump on the road of their journey in life, they decide to end it all.
“We then see the suicide rates increasing; we see them consuming Sniper, and it is so easy to get hold of.
“All these harmful chemicals need to be licenced so that it is actually more difficult to get access to,’’ Goncalves said.
Commenting, a Lagos-based lawyer and rights activist, Spurgeon Ataene, said the ban on sniper was “just like a joke’’.
Ataene said: “We ought to be more concerned with evolving mechanisms to tackle the parasite rather than the ban.
“Suicide is a culmination of persistent frustration and depression foisted on people by conditions such as poverty, lack, ignorance, illiteracy, unemployment, colossal loss of jobs, insecurity and general economic downturn.
“Suicide is incidentally a corollary to loss of hope to live again as the forces of ignorance engendered by poverty would have made it difficult for sanity and self-restraint to be engaged.
“The panacea to this rampant suicide is good governance which will ensure prosperity and happiness for the citizens, and then, suicide will become unlikely and unfashionable.
“Now, for banning of Sniper, I would ask: How are we sure that there are no other more potent items for suicide in place?
“Is suicide new to us? I see the ban on the sale of Sniper as simply evading the main issues for redress.
“Sniper is potent at destroying harmful insects, pests and even rodents, and to that extent, it is a very useful component.’’
He suggested that the ban on Sniper should be lifted, saying as “a panacea to the wanton episode of suicide, the government should make education free, encourage agriculture and provide employment.
“Government should also energise production outfits like Ajaokuta Steel, Aladja Steel, all refineries and ensure all our national investments work.’