How many more tragedies?

12-year-old Farah died on Monday due to a banned pesticide used by her neighbour, making her the latest victim of cheap pest control

  • Gone too soon: Habiba and Abdul Rahman. Rahman survived after hospitalisation, but Habiba was not lucky. Image Credit: supplied
  • Hafsa who died of suspected pesticide poisoning Image Credit: supplied photo
  • Sawda who died from suspected pesticide poisoning Image Credit: supplied photo
  • Tragic: Two of a Palestinian triplet died after their neighbour sprayed his apartment with pesticides. Only Ha Image Credit: supplied photo
  • Turning on the heat: National Pest Control staff carrying out heat treatment in a Sharjah apartment Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/XPRESS
  • on the job: Dismantling the furniture is part of the preparatory work for better results Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/XPRESS

Dubai Advanced treatments to fight pesky insects are making pest control more expensive and cumbersome, prompting many residents to resort to cheaper options and putting the community at risk.

This week’s shocking death of an 12-year-old Iraqi girl from suspected pesticide poisoning in Sharjah is yet another rude reminder about the heavy price paid every time a callous resident takes the shortcut to control pests.

But more than the lack of awareness, residents said the issue of persisting pesticide mishaps boils down to an unwillingness to pay for safe pest control, especially with newer methods used by pest control companies costing more money and effort.

Angel D’Souza, a housewife in Dubai, said: “I was shocked when a pest control company told me that I would have to pay Dh1,800 for heat treatment to control cockroaches and bedbugs in my two-bedroom apartment.

“On top of it, I was given a long list of things I had to do to prepare the apartment for the treatment.

“It is too cumbersome.”

Similarly, Faruq, a Sharjah resident, said he and his family were at their wits end trying to comply with a three-stage strategy adopted by a pest control firm that charged him Dh850 to control bedbugs in his three-bedroom apartment. “Our house was turned upside down. We were asked to dismantle the beds and hot-wash all linen and clothing and seal them in plastic bags. We literally had to put our lives on hold for a month as the treatment was done in three stages at 10-day intervals.”

But pest control companies say it is all part of an integrated approach to pest management which takes into account life-cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment before arriving at specific monitoring, prevention and control measures.

A Whole Process

Dinesh Ramachandran, Technical Manager of National Pest Control (NPC), said: “If pest control is to be effective, the client has to follow our recommendations and prepare well in terms of access, clearing of clutter, hot-wash and laundry of bed linen, quilts, curtains etc, vacuuming of cracks and crevices before we start bedbug treatment. This is because bedbugs can hide in the tiniest crevices. They are active when we are asleep and feed on our blood. They can starve for more than a month — so if you think they will go away when you are on vacation, you are mistaken.”

James Nicholson, General Manager of Rentokil Pest Control, said: “The problem is that people want quick solutions with cast-iron guarantees and that is not realistic. They must understand that we can at best control pests, not eradicate them and there’s a process to it. It begins with good hygiene, maintenance and proofing, besides following the recommendations given to them. External influences like people or products coming in from areas that have no pest control must also be guarded against.”

Ramachandran said a bedbug lives for more than a year and takes three months to mature into an adult during which time it feeds on human blood. “An adult bedbug lays one to five eggs every day, with each egg hatching in seven-10 days. Similarly, the common German cockroach lives for about 10-12 months during which time it breeds four-five generations. Each generation has 30-40 cockroaches, so a single female can give birth to over 200 cockroaches in 12 months.”

Ramachandran said heat treatment is more effective because it targets all life stages of the insect. “Unlike chemical treatment which cannot kill the bedbug eggs because they are protected by wax, heat treatment can kill nymphs, adults and eggs. It also helps clean the air of other insects, including dust mites.”

fighting resistance

Besides the high rates of breeding, pests also evolve to become resistant to chemicals when they are exposed to a particular type over time.

“That’s one reason why synthetic pyrethroids are no longer effective against cockroaches and bedbugs. Manufacturers are increasing the pyrethroid concentration or combining two different chemical ingredients to work against the resistant population or are even using chemicals that work against the insect’s detox mechanisms,” said Ramachandran.

Companies are also going in for eco-friendly products. But since they are less toxic, they require repeated treatment, making them costlier and more time-consuming.

“The cost of pest control has gone up because we use safer and more environmentally-friendly products these days,” said Suraj Palayat, entomologist at Jumeirah Pest Control, which charges around Dh400-Dh500 for general pest control of a two- or three-bedroom villa.

According to Soy Varghese of Ecovar, a representative of the National Pest Management Association, green products require repeated applications as they carry lower residual properties.

But people are unaware of their advantages and prefer to go in for cheaper treatments that involve higher toxicity.

“As far as they are concerned, a product that can guarantee better results with just one application is far better, never mind that it is highly toxic or that it is not suitable for homes,” said Varghese.

He said it is this mentality that spurs the random use of ‘bombs’ or aluminium phosphide tablets that are taking unsuspecting lives in the UAE. “People don’t understand green products are safer. For instance, we have an oil-based natural product called Eco Exempt IC 2 Plus. It is made of rosemary, peppermint, winter green and vanilla and has a sudden knock-down effect on insects. But it has lower residual properties and the bedbugs could reappear 15 days later. So it would require repeated applications and people are not ready for that.”

cost element

Nicholson said as pest control becomes more advanced, the cost of the pesticide itself accounts for just six-seven per cent of the cost. “The most expensive products perhaps go up to 12 per cent. So what you are paying for when you rope in a good pest control company is the service. It is for the right people who are trained to use the right pesticides in the right formulations and methods.”

Ramachandran said: “We invest a lot of time and resources to hire and train the right people. At NPC, we have 100 qualified technicians, eight entomologists and three quality officers besides state-of-the-art storage and transportation facilities to ensure a safe and effective service. We have just introduced a new online support service which gives you real time reports and feedback. There’s a cost element to all of this.”

But residents feel the costs cannot be passed on to them.




Pesticide Poisoning: 
Deadly Timeline

July 1, 2013: Iraqi girl, 12, dies, four others hospitalised in Sharjah

June 12, 2013: Filipina, 35, dies and her two Ethiopian colleagues fall sick in Fujairah

June 1, 2013: Two Bangladeshi siblings, aged three years and eight months die in Ajman

September 23, 2012: 12 Asian workers hospitalised in Sharjah

September 1, 2012: Two-year-old girl, dies, brother hospitalised in Sharjah.

May 16, 2012: Ten workers 
hospitalised in Dubai

August 5, 2011: Indian man, 33, dies in Dubai

June 19, 2011: 26-year-old man dies in sleep while roommate is hospitalised in Dubai.

June 5, 2010: Indian woman, 23, and Nepalese man, 28 die in Sharjah

MARCH 27, 2010: Palestinian triplets hospitalised in Sharjah, two die.



You Speak

How much do you spend on pest control treatments annually. What has been your experience with pest control companies? 

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Your comment

  • Rohan

    04-Jul-2013 10:33

    Pest control will be effective only if even your neighbors get their flats treated at the same time. Or these living-beings migrate between two OR more rooms (likewise).

  • Aisha

    04-Jul-2013 09:03

    All you need to do to prevent pests is to stop killing cats ...cats control the spread of pests.... I have cats in my house and we havent used pest control in years. Most people here seem to have no understanding or education of how ecological balances are maintained. Perhaps XPRESS should launch an awareness drive instead helping pest control companies get richer. These poor children pay the price of ignorance.

  • Kumar

    04-Jul-2013 08:17

    I am living in the UAE for 3 years and till now I have not done any pest control in my room. Daily I spend 20 minutes cleaning your room and change bedspread once in two days and washing curtains once in a week. This will keep pests away from your room.

  • KR

    04-Jul-2013 00:36

    One thing I have seen to be an effective pest control is bleach. That's right. Simple Clorox bleach, when used to clean floors and counters works as effective pesticide. Wipe wooden cabinets (cupboards) with bleach and you'll be free from roaches for a long time. Bleach may also be effective to finish bedbugs. Wipe wooden portion of beds with bleach and it's possible that it will kill bedbugs.

  • KR

    04-Jul-2013 00:32

    Pests are a big problem and sometimes it seems that there are companies that actually throw pests near houses in order to sell their services! While I don't have proof for this, this was seemingly obvious when I lived in Sharjah because weird looking cockroaches would appear all of a sudden near the front gate! What was even strange was that a day later someone would throw ads for their pest control company. If it's true that pest control companies spread pests to get people to pay them money, then something needs to be done about it especially since so many have gotten pesticide poisoning.

Latest Comment

Pest control will be effective only if even your neighbors get their flats treated at the same time. Or these living-beings migrate between two OR more rooms (likewise).


4 July 2013 12:49 jump to comments