Coquimbo, Chile – An upsurge of agricultural activity in Chile over the last 20 years has resulted in an increase in the use of pesticides. While this increase has provided productivity benefits, (by increasing the quality of crops and reducing damaged products); it has also caused health problems among agricultural workers, such as episodes of acute poisoning. As a result, the Chilean authority required the implementation of several preventive measures at workplaces that use these pesticides. Unfortunately, the measures are not always implemented, thus increasing the risk of intoxication incidents in farmers. Despite the societal costs involved if workers need to take sick-leave, and the cost for families to take care of their sick members, no studies have been conducted concerning the public health care expenditure associated with acute work-related pesticide intoxications in Chile, to date.
In the study, “Assessment of Health Care and Economic Costs Due to Episodes of Acute Pesticide Intoxication in Workers of Rural Areas of the Coquimbo Region, Chile,” published in Value in Health Regional Issues, researchers from the Universidad Católica del Norte, the Chilean Ministry of Health and the Radboud University Medical Center aimed to estimate the costs related to pesticide poisonings among agricultural workers in Chile.
The researchers determined that the overall cost of a single case depends on the severity of the intoxication, days of sick leave, and type of health care needed. Most workers (77%) received care at an emergency room, with an average cost of USD $330 per case. Those cases that might need hospitalization (23%) had an average cost of USD $1,158 per case. Taking into account the number of cases reported each year in Chile, the cost per annum would be between USD 1.1 – 1.4 million a year; considering the underreporting of intoxications and under-estimation of costs at the public insurance system fees. Much of these costs could be avoided if prevention measures established by the current legislation are taken.
These findings represent the first step for further investigations that could assess cost-benefits of preventive measures, considering both acute and chronic health outcomes in workers exposed to pesticides.