In his view, the future became empty, and despair became an option before waiting, so the Egyptian student A.M. did not wait until announcing the results of the exams he stumbled upon and decided to withdraw, not from the educational process but from the whole life.
After the 15-year-old student finished his mathematics exam, he ate 3 pills of that substance that is used to preserve grains and is known to be highly toxic, which led to his death minutes after entering Ashmoun General Hospital in Menoufia Governorate, north of Cairo.
The case of a middle school student is not unique in Egypt. Rather, eating the grain as a means of suicide – especially among teenagers in the countryside – has become a phenomenon that calls for parliament’s intervention, as social media activists interacted with it.
However, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (government) denied the increase in suicides, explaining – in a statement it issued in response to the international organization’s report – that the number of suicides during the year 2017 amounted to only 69 cases.
On the same day and perhaps at the same time that a middle school student ended his life using deadly pills, the Egyptian parliament was discussing the danger of suicide by using grain storage pills, which is known in the Egyptian countryside for acronyms as “grain grain”.
Parliament’s discussions about the grains used by farmers to save the wheat crop from harmful insects, and the desperate people to end their lives, ended with tightening control over the methods of selling those grains.
The Parliament’s Agriculture and Irrigation Committee recommended, during its meeting last Sunday, to legalize the use of tablets used in grain storage, tighten control over pesticide stores and other stores that sell these tablets, and write records for violators. Parliament also recommended the Ministry of Endowments to raise the danger of using these tablets through the pulpits of mosques.
It is noteworthy that Egypt is the largest importer of wheat in the world, which is one of the main crops that Egyptians depend on for their food, yet their country does not produce much of it. According to the Ministry of Supply, the wheat storage capacity inside government silos is estimated at 3.4 million tons.
the killer pill
In April 2019, 3 girls from one family, aged between 12 and 17, committed suicide due to family disputes, and used the “yellow grain” to do so, according to local newspapers. Because of the tragic details of the incident, attention began to turn for the first time to the seriousness of the deadly pills.
The tablets that are used in grain storage consist of aluminum phosphide, from which the highly toxic phosphine gas comes out, for which no antidote or antidote is available.
Despite the danger of these pills, they are sold in Egypt, especially in rural areas, without supervision, and teens are more interested in them because of their cheap price, as the price of one pill does not exceed 5 pounds (a dollar is less than 16 pounds).
Sahar El-Dakrouri, Head of the Toxicology Department at the Faculty of Medicine at Mansoura University, said that 500 mg of the phosphine compound is enough to kill a person, explaining – in press statements – that it reacts as soon as it enters the patient’s stomach with water and gastric juice and produces the highly toxic phosphine gas in the body.
She explained that there are no clear clinical symptoms of this gas, and therefore it is difficult to predict the patient’s condition once he is examined, unless the patient or a member of his family is told about the type of poison he ingested, or tests that take a long time are conducted. That is why doctors call yield pills the silent killer, because they kill the patient without clearly declaring themselves, according to El-Dakrouri.
Statistics indicate that the number of deaths around the world due to the use of pesticides ranges between 250 and 370 thousand people, and it is responsible for one third of suicides worldwide in 2018.
The head of the toxicology department at Mansoura College of Medicine confirmed that the toxicology unit at the university’s emergency hospital received 500 patients during 2018 and mid-2019 who took pesticides, most of whom committed suicide with the grain of the crop, where the deaths among them represented more than 90%.
Why not ban?
Despite the high risk of grain storage, the Egyptian government did not take a decision to ban their use, and the positive action was limited to parliamentary recommendations to tighten control over their circulation.
In this context, the head of the Egyptian Farmers Syndicate, Hussein Abu Saddam, says that aluminum phosphide is an ideal insecticide for exterminating grain pests, and saving most types of crops from decay at a cheap price.
He added – in a statement issued after the parliamentary recommendations were issued regarding the deadly pill – that the yield pill is easy to use and is used in fumigating grains, silos, steamers and most grain storage places, to protect them from insect infestations. It can also be used to eliminate rodents and palm weevil, as it interacts with moisture and releases toxic phosphine gas that eliminates most pests, and does not leave negative effects on agricultural products, according to the Farmers Syndicate.
He explained that the grain of the crop is registered as an insecticide at the Ministry of Agriculture, considering it one of the most and best pesticides used in preserving grains, “because after fumigation it does not leave any negative effects on the grains,” according to his opinion. Therefore, preventing the use of this pill to preserve grain is unreasonable from Abu Saddam’s point of view, saying that it is unreasonable to demand that a pesticide be banned, no matter how toxic it is, because of an error in its use or its use for a purpose other than its intended purpose.
The same vision was adopted by the Chairman of the Agriculture and Irrigation Committee in the House of Representatives, Hisham Al-Hosari, who confirmed that stopping the circulation of these tablets will not solve the crisis, pointing out that there is no alternative to them to preserve the crops in the country. Al-Hosari added during a parliamentary session that banning the circulation of the grain will not prevent those who want to commit suicide, pointing out the need to search for the reasons that lead to suicide and not the means used to kill oneself.
And he added, “Whoever wants to commit suicide will commit suicide by any means. He can throw himself from the tenth floor.”