SL’s 1997 Suicide Prevention policy tipped for world award: CBK calls for bipartisanship on progressive policies

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who was instrumental in introducing the National Policy and Action Plan on the Prevention of Suicide, which has recently been shortlisted for an international award on effective policy solutions, said that steps should be taken to implement such progressive policies in a timely manner so that such policies are not undermined during a regime change.

Said National Policy and Action Plan, which was introduced in 1997 has, along with the Control of Pesticides Act No. 33 of 1980 as amended, been shortlisted among the most effective policy solutions for the Future Policy Award 2021 on Protection from Hazardous Chemicals organised by the World Future Council (WFC). The WFC works towards promoting a healthy and sustainable planet through the identification and implementation of solutions for the challenges faced by humanity. The Award celebrates the most effective policy solutions that have minimised the adverse effects that exposure to chemicals has on human health and the environment.

Speaking to The Morning, Kumaratunga said that it was important for political authorities as well as public officials to act responsibly in properly implementing such policies that are beneficial for the country and its people. She added that such progressive policies should be taken forward irrespective of differences among political parties since they make a direct impact on almost all sectors in the country.

“When our Government came to power, Sri Lanka had the highest suicide rate in the world, according to the UN. I was shocked by that. Various measures were subsequently taken to reduce it. The first was the establishment of a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Suicide Prevention. Another PTF was set up to combat drug and alcohol use which also leads to suicide. Steps were taken during that time to provide counselling services to the youth, and conduct various workshops at sites of religious worship. As a result, the country which had the highest number of suicides in the world, was able to come down to 11th place.”

Accordingly, policies from Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Ethiopia, India, the Republic of South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and the US have been shortlisted for this Award. A total of 55 policies from 36 countries had been nominated.

The said National Policy and Action Plan was introduced during Kumaratunga’s Presidential tenure, following recommendations made by the 13 Member PTF on the Prevention of Suicide, chaired by Dr. Tara de Mel. The said PTF made recommendations to reduce easy access to lethal methods of suicide through the imposition of restrictions on the free availability of pesticides and other commonly used lethal substances. In this regard, the PTF proposed the establishment of a licensing procedure and the educating of the staff working at pesticides sales outlets. Other recommendations made by the PTF were the safe storage of pesticides and the sale of pesticides in a form that is less lethal.