Background: Self-poisoning with pesticides is a major reason for high suicide rates in rural areas of many developing countries. Safer storage of pesticides may be one means of prevention. We have conducted a study to assess the acceptability and use of lockable boxes for storing pesticides in rural Sri Lanka.
Methods: Four hundred lockable metal storage boxes were given to farming households, 100 in each of four villages. Assessment interviews were conducted by Sumithrayo (NGO) field workers immediately after boxes were supplied (T1), 11 - 14 weeks later (T2), 30 weeks later (T3), and 18 months later (T4). Data on suicide and self-harm were collected from local police and hospitals.
Results: At T1 only 1.8% (7/396) of households reported locking up pesticides, 72.5% (279/385) easy access to pesticides for adults and 50.4% (195/387) easy access for children. At T3 most informants in households using pesticides reported using the box all (82.3%, 298/362) or most of the time (7.2%, 26/362). Informants usually reported always locking the box (92.8%, 336/362) and most boxes were locked on inspection (93.6%, 339/362). By T4 there was some reduction in reporting that the box was kept locked all of the time (75.2%, 267/355) and the box being locked on inspection (73.8%, 262/355). Easy child access to the key was reported in relatively few households (10.7% at T4), although interviewers judged that this was possible in rather more (20.6%). Most informants regarded the box as useful (100% at T3 and 99.4% at T4), with convenience for storage, security, avoiding wastage, and protection of children being major factors. A message on the box about how to deal with bad feelings and the importance of safer storage was well received. The locks had been broken or the key lost in a few households.
Conclusion: Introduction of lockable boxes for storing pesticides to farming households in Sri Lanka appeared to be acceptable. Most households used the boxes responsibly, although there was some decline in the proper usage over time. A large-scale trial of lockable storage devices in farming households in rural areas as a means of prevention of suicide and accidental poisoning is now indicated.