NATIONAL Social Crisis

Above the Middle East: Chile Tops List of Ocular Trauma Cases

SANTIAGO — The renowned British scientific journal Nature published a study by Universidad de Chile on the ocular traumas protesters sustained. According to the study, Chile has the most such cases recorded in the relevant literature. All of these injuries resulted from police intervention during the massive protests that started in October last year.

Police forces now commonly use kinetic impact projectiles for crowd control during protests. In Chile, the practice intensified during the social outbreak that started last year.

In a study, recently published by British scientific journal Nature and conducted by Universidad de Chile, researchers analyzed every case of ocular trauma that was registered from Oct. 18 to Nov. 30, 2019. And according to the National Human Rights Institute (INDH), 347 people suffered eye injuries due to rubber bullets during the period under study.

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Surpassing the Middle East

The study found that eye injuries attributable to police action in Chile surpassed cases even from conflicts in the Middle East.

Universidad de Chile researcher Álvaro Rodríguez wrote in an article that the highest number of ocular trauma cases before the Chilean social crisis were registered in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, over a period of six years. Overall, 154 cases were registered between 1987 and 1993. In Chile, “in only a month and a half we registered 182 cases just in Hospital del Salvador,” Rodríguez wrote.

The study published by Nature, included patients who were treated in Hospital del Salvador’s eye trauma unit, which is the country’s biggest. They analyzed 259 cases and found that 70% had suffered the trauma due to the impact of rubber bullets.

The study also concluded that “compared to other causes of ocular trauma, KIPs (kinetic impact projectiles) were related to a more severe loss of visual acuity and a higher frequency of open-globe injuries.” Almost 50% of the patients were blind or had severe visual impairment when first examined.

Ocular Traumas Continued

The high numbers of ocular traumas raised questions at a national and international level. Due to the many cases, Hospital del Salvador asked experts at Universidad de Chile to analyze the components in the rubber bullets. This study showed that the bullets contained only 20% rubber. The rest were minerals or metals like lead, silica, and barium sulfate. This led to increasing pressure from the human rights institute, protesters, and international examiners.

On Nov. 19 the Chilean police force said it would refrain from using pellets and rubber bullets. However, according to the Nature study “there were nine cases recorded after the total ban.” The INDH said even more cases were registered by February. 

The researchers warn about the dangers of this ammunition and conclude that the Chilean experience should motivate the prohibition of rubber bullets or kinetic impact projectiles. “Our study shows that KIPs for crowd-control are not fulfilling their purpose to avoid severe and fatal injuries, leading to visual impairment and eventually blindness in a large number of cases,” the study says.

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