One of the major contributors to the public health crisis is pesticide poisoning.

While pesticides are effective at killing pests, such as rodents and insects, and weeds, they can also cause farmers who use them to suffer from unintentional acute pesticide poisoning (UAPP). And according to a new study published in BMC Public Health, 44% of farmers worldwide suffer from UAPP each year, resulting in 11,000 deaths.

The scientists conducted a systematic review of UAPP cases found in peer-reviewed publications. A systematic review is a research method that gathers all the relevant and empirical evidence regarding a particular research question. The evidence is extracted from analysing multiple studies and used to draw conclusions.

This is the second systematic review of UAPP cases to be done on a global scale. The first one was conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1990. WHO concluded that one million UAPP cases happen a year, resulting in an estimated 20,000 deaths. The new research aimed to update that research to account for the increasing usage of pesticides around the world.

To arrive at the current annual estimate, the researchers looked at 157 scientific articles that were published between 2016 and 2018. They then supplemented that with mortality data from a WHO database, which added 83 more articles. And what they found was shocking.

The worldwide farming population is estimated to be around 860 million. And 44% of this means that there are approximately 385 million cases of UAPP reported yearly. According to the scientists, “The greatest estimated number of UAPP cases is in southern Asia, followed by south-eastern Asia and east Africa with regards to non-fatal UAPP.” Out of the 11,000 deaths from UAPP, 60% (6,600) of them were reported in India.

The study had some limitations, though. For example, the researchers admitted that the selection criteria for identifying the relevant literature for the systematic review was “too restrictive.” And that the estimates are “partly based on a weak database.” However, the researchers were confident and showed that the limitations didn’t have a significant impact on the estimates. This means the study is an accurate representation of the danger pesticides pose to the health of farmers worldwide.

The researchers offered some hope, however, stating that the impact of the UAPP on the global farming community can be reduced. Particularly, they suggested that the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) should implement international guidelines aimed at phasing out the use of highly poisonous pesticides.