Out of the 56 tear gas victims who were treated at Brikama Health Center during Wednesday’s protest, 41 are women, according to the health center’s records obtained by The Chronicle.
This list excludes two babies who were also treated after inhaling tear gas.
On Tuesday, Brikama attracted national attention when hundreds of youth took to the streets to protest for better service delivery from the local council. The protest dubbed “#OccupyBAC” was held less than 24 hours after security chiefs held a marathon meeting with the organizers at the Police Headquarters in Banjul aimed at talking them out of the protest for security reasons.
As they gathered to start protest, anti-riot police fired tear gas at them to disperse the crowd. The protest which lasted all day attracted hours of response with tear gas from the police. Red Cross personnel were seen transporting people who were tear-gassed to the health center in ambulances.
Fatoumatta Saidy was one of the victims. “This is dangerous and it nearly killed me. The teargas caught my chest and nose, severely restricting my breathing pattern. This could kill any person,” she told The Chronicle shortly after she was treated at the health center Wednesday.
Fatoumatta and many other victims said they were inside their homes when they inhaled tear gas and collapsed. “I didn’t go out to protest. I was at home, inside my house when I felt something peppery in my eyes. I started feeling dizzy. Then it was like I was suffocating. I couldn’t breathe,” said Fatoumatta.
She was admitted for more than an hour before she was allowed to go home.
Salimatou Suwareh said she nearly lost her 3-week-old baby who inhaled the gas fired by the police behind her compound.
“When they started firing tear gas in my area, I told them to stop because my baby’s reaction was scary but they didn’t listen. They kept firing more,” she said.
“I realised my baby was struggling, continuously moving and breathing heavily. I went out again to tell the police to stop but when I got back in, the baby’s condition worsened. I felt he wasn’t breathing.”
Salimatou shouted for help and the Red Cross volunteers nearby arrived and rushed the baby to the health center. He was discharged Thursday morning.
Matty Sanneh, also hospitalised, collapsed during the heat of the protest after being hit by tear gas. “I was running and all of a sudden I felt the gas in my eyes and then my chest. I couldn’t breathe. The more I tried to breathe, the more I couldn’t. So I collapsed.”
The Brikama Health Center itself was affected as staff and patients also inhaled the gas fired by the police from nearby locations. Lamin Sanyang, the Officer in Charge at the health center said he advised his staff to put on masks.
“All my staff put on masks because the scent of the gas was all over. I went to the security officers and I spoke to them that the gas has been spreading around.”
He later found out that the effect of gas was already widespread even inside the wards where it affected patients, including a second baby who was being admitted and diagnosed with a different sickness.
“I went around the wards and I was getting complaints patients because they were disturbed by the gas. There was one baby who also had difficulty breathing in the maternity ward. The mother said it was as a result of the gas.”
Some of the victims who were hospitalised and discharged told The Chronicle Thursday that they were still feeling pain in their eye or chest.