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South Korea & paraquat

South Korea has the highest suicide mortality rate (29.1/100,000 population, based on 2012 data) among all Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries. A relatively large proportion of suicides occur from pesticide poisoning compared with other countries – suicide with pesticides accounted for 21% of all suicides in South Korea during 2006 through 2010.

The herbicide paraquat was the most important agent of pesticide suicide throughout the 2000s. In 2011, because other measures to reduce deaths had failed, the South Korean government cancelled its registration and banned the sale of paraquat. This was followed by a fall in the numbers of pesticide suicides (see figure).

The incidence of suicide by pesticide poisoning halved from 5.3 to 2.7 per 100,000 population between 2011 and 2013. Compared with the number expected, the regulations were followed by an estimated 847 fewer pesticide suicides (or a 37% reduction in rates in 2013). There was a marked reduction in the number of patients presenting to hospital with paraquat poisoning.

No impact of the paraquat ban on crop yield could be detected.

South Korea offers an example of a country that has effectively dealt with pesticide suicides with an intervention affecting a single specific pesticide.

It has been held up as an example by the WHO of effective suicide prevention. See page 43 (section 3.5) in the World Health Statistics 2017 report listed below.


Cha ES, Chang SS, Gunnell D, Eddleston M, Khang YH, Lee WJ. Impact of paraquat regulation on suicide in South Korea. Int J Epidemiol. 2016 Apr;45(2):470-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26582846

Lee JW, Hwang IW, Kim JW, Moon HJ, Kim KH, Park S, Gil HW, Hong SY. Common Pesticides Used in Suicide Attempts Following the 2012 Paraquat Ban in Korea. J Korean Med Sci. 2015 Oct;30(10):1517-21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26425052

WHO 2017. World Health Statistics report.



August 7, 2020


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