The Sumithrayo Rural Programme

History: According to a study done in 1995 in more than 80 countries worldwide by the University of Harvard USA, Sri Lanka was found to have the highest rate of suicide in the world at 47/100,000. According to local statistics, a majority of these suicides, almost 75%, came from the rural communities of the country. The Sumithrayo Rural Programme was set up in May 1996 in response to these high rates of suicide in the rural areas.

With little or no money in hand at the inception in 1996, the Rural Programme has grown to cover over 80 suicide prone villages in the North Western and Southern Provinces of the country. The work done by the Programme during the last decade has been acknowledged internationally and is recognized as being a successful and sustainable programme which is aimed at reducing suicidal behaviour in remote rural areas that had hitherto recorded very high rates of suicide. The honorary director of the Programme was awarded the prestigious Erwin Ringel Service Award in 2007, by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) for significant contributions to Suicide Prevention. The Programme itself was the recipient of an Accreditation Award for Suicide Prevention Services in the Asia Pacific Region in November 2008.

The Sumithrayo Rural Programme is essentially staffed by a few rural volunteers, and volunteers from Colombo & the Colombo & Kohuwela branch Centres who work in an honorary capacity. Rural volunteers chosen for their high level of commitment and competency and willing to work on a full time daily basis as Field Officers for the Rural Suicide Prevention Programme are paid a monthly stipend. At the moment the Rural Programme supports 6 field officers (3 males & 3 females), and one office assistant all of who are specially trained Sumithrayo volunteers,

50 to 55% of the suicides island-wide are pesticide related. The commonest method used both amongst men and women is the ingestion of agricultural poisons. In 2009 alone, 59%, of the suicides in the North Western divisional areas of Hettipola, Bingiriya and Panduwasnuwara East and 76% of the suicides in the Southern divisional areas of Thanamalwila, Lunugamvehera and Tissamaharama where the Sumithrayo Rural Programme works were pesticide related.

The Sumithrayo are experimenting with a three pronged effort to contain the problem of suicidal behaviour in the villages.

1). Befriending, the offer of emotional support to the depressed and despairing;

2). Awareness & Education programmes in schools and village communities;

3). Provision of lockable Secure Storage boxes to farming families for safely storing Pesticides and household poisons to prevent suicide and accidental poisoning.

The following are details of a publication of a study done by Sumithrayo in collaboration with the Centre for Suicide Research, Oxford University on Secure Storage of Pesticides to Reduce Suicide.

Title: Evaluation of acceptability and usage of lockable storage devices for pesticides in Sri Lanka that might assist in prevention of self poisoning.

Keith Hawton, Lakshmi Ratnayeke, Sue Simpkin, Louise Harris and Vanda Scott

BMC Public Health 2009.

The paper has also been sent by BioMed Central to the US National Library of Medicine for indexing in PubMed and archiving in PubMed Central. It should appear on their web sites.

A third study sponsored by WHO on Secure Storage of Pesticides to Prevent Accidental Poisoning and Suicide in Rural Sri Lanka, using village community support is currently in progress in Tissamaharama in the Southern Province.