#OccupyNigeria: Health Guide To Safe Protests
By Paul Adepoju (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Without gainsaying, the need for a safer protocol when it comes to civil unrests, strikes and protests cannot be overemphasized especially at a time when there is so much tension in the nation. With numerous trigger-happy security officers and insecurity instances around us, Nigerians need to protect themselves before protecting their rights and much cherished fuel subsidy. It is a popular saying that it is only the man that is alive that gets the plate number of the hit-and-run driver.
Since Monday, the nation has recorded several protests dotted across the nation. From the well paved Abuja roads to the hinterlands, many Nigerians are grumbling and are already on the streets burning tires, chanting, singing songs and clamouring for the return of the much loved subsidy. And as usual, not every one of these protests is going on smoothly. At the Eagle Square rally for instance, the crowd was dispersed with tear gas. And in Ilorin, a protester was allegedly shot dead.
There are basic things we can do to prevent fatal outcomes, curtail dangerous incidences and take care of victims; even while making our voices heard. The first thing we need to know about is tear gas.
Tear gas is used by law enforcement officials for crowd control and by individuals for personal protection (pepper spray). Though considered as a mild agent, medical history has shown that tear gas could be weaponized as terrorists could use it for attacks. Tear gas could be released in the air as a mist of fine droplets or particles. If tear gas was released into the air, people could be exposed through skin contact, eye contact, or breathing it in.
Tear gas causes burning sensation and irritation to the area of contact within seconds of exposure. The extent of harm caused by tear gas depends on the amount a person is exposed to, how the person was exposed (skin contact, eye contact, or breathing), and the length of time of the exposure. The effects of exposure to tear gas are usually short-lived (30-60 minutes) after the person has been removed from the source and cleaned off (decontaminated).
However, long term exposure (for about an hour or to higher concentration) can lead to blindness, glaucoma (potential cause of blindness), respiratory failure due to difficulty in breathing, and death as a result of serious chemical burns to the throat and lungs. It is worthy to note that these deadly effects of tear gas will only occur when individuals are overexposed or higher than normal concentrations are formulated and used. Nigerian protesters should be prepared for both.
After getting exposed to tear gas, usually via breathing, the first thing to do is to quickly leave the area. This sounds so simple but in a protest, the people tend to challenge the law enforcement officers. In a nation like Nigeria, it is during this period that big grammars are spoken and the already exposed individuals are further exposed. Simply moving to an area where fresh air is available is a highly effective method of protection., and let’s keep in mind the fact that tear gas will form a heavy vapor cloud that will settle close to the ground. Hence just staying there increases the exposure rate.
In case of burning eyes or blurred vision, the eyes should be rinsed with plain water for 10-15 minutes hence protest organizers should ensure that water is readily and freely available. Eye symptoms are treated by rinsing the eyes with water until the stinging starts to go away. Treatment for breathing difficulties involves helping the affected person get more oxygen in his or her blood. Medications that are used to treat asthma (such as bronchodilators and steroids) may be used to help the person breathe. Burn injuries to the skin are treated with standard burn management techniques, such as medicated bandages. Hence first aid kits should be readily available in addition to placards and signs.
Another issue that protests organizers should be prepared for is how to handle gunshot wounds. Unlike teargas, gunshots at rallies are unexpected. Normally, rationally, sensibly and logically, guns aren’t expected at civil rallies; but in a nation where police officers frequently shoot helpless citizens behind the wheels at checking points for refusing to pay twenty naira illegal dues, gunshots at protests should be expected and well prepared for. The Ilorin incidence attests to the fact that it will be unwise not to expect gunshots although preparedness can reduce its impact.
The severity of a gunshot wound is dependent on the location of the injury, the size and speed of the projectile. By and large, ten minutes should be allotted to each gunshot victim before ambulance transport.
The victim should not be moved unless the safety is in jeopardy. If the victim is unconscious, keep the airway open and clear. But if the victim is not breathing, someone should begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). The process is simple.
Place the heel of your hand in the middle of the victim’s chest and put the other hand on top of the first with your fingers interlaced. Compress the chest at least 2 inches (4 – 5 cm). Allow the chest to completely recoil before the next compression. Compress the chest at a rate of at least 100 pushes per minute. Continue to do chest compressions until the victim wakes up, or a trained person takes over the CPR process to perform the rescue breath.
The bleeding should be controlled by applying pressure on gauze or cloth placed on the wound site. Gunshot to the chest should be sealed with some type of plastic to keep air from being sucked into the wound thus preventing the collapse of the lung. But if the victim complains of worsened shortness of breath, gently remove the seal.
Conscious victims should sit or lie in positions most comfortable to them, while unconscious victims should be placed in the recovery position. To put the victim in recovery position, grab his or her leg and shoulder and roll him or towards you. Continue to roll the victim until he is on his side. Adjust the top leg so that both the hip and knee are bent at right angles; gently tilt the head back to keep the airway open. If breathing or circulation stops at any point in time, roll the person back and begin chest compression.
In a broad sense, ensuring breathing and stopping bleeding are the major issues that determine whether a gunshot victim will survive or not. Hence organizers of protests should make adequate provisions and have a medical team on stand by plus an ambulance on speed dial.
Panic and Stampede
Although teargases are often used at rallies and protests, few things cause more harm than panicked protesters. This is what the law enforcement officers in this part of the world often capitalize on. They chase protesters and threaten to shoot. In return, the protesters often scamper for safety in the process of which collisions and stampedes tend to occur depending on the number of those in attendance and the location of the venue.
The victims most affected are often children and the aged. This is why it is not advisable for kids and grannies to be at rallies that are not well planned. However, the simple solution is to use a widely open location, not the end of a closed arena. Also, the organizers can plan the rally such that participants are organized into groups and each group could have a safety instructor guiding them and should show the way when there is commotion.
The panic button is the easily pushed button hence Nigerian protests organizers should be prepared to handle such and ensure the safety of those in attendance by providing adequate medical, psychological and aesthetic provisions that are necessary to make rallies and protests delights to be.
While the law enforcement officers are expected to be at their best behavior, the Nigerian civil group should learn from past occurrences. They should take note of the issues raised in this article and ensure that while protesters are clamoring for the return of subsidy, all of them live to see their wishes come through.