Syphilis experiment infected 1 300

2011-05-19 09:26

Guatemala City - An investigation by Guatemalan authorities has identified about 1 300 people who may have been involved in a 1940s US syphilis experiment, a few of whom may still be living, Vice President Rafael Espada said on Wednesday.

The search of hospital, health department, military and prison records has identified about 1 300 people who were infected with syphilis or gonorrhoea without their knowledge or consent.

"As of today, we have found three or four patients who are still alive," Espada said.

The formal results of the investigation were to have been presented this week, but were delayed when the government had to turn its attention to the massacre of 27 people by suspected drug traffickers in northern Peten province.

No new date has been set for the release of the report.


Records uncovered in the US in 2010 suggested that researchers in the programme in the 1940s attempted to infect about 700 prostitutes, prisoners and mental patients with syphilis. About 770 test subjects, including soldiers, were exposed to gonorrhoea.

Guatemalan authorities had previously expected to find about 1 500 victims. It was unclear whether some in the study were not successfully infected, some were infected with both diseases, or whether Guatemala was unable to identify them all more than 60 years later.

Patients were treated with penicillin. Among the goals of the research was to see how well differing dosages of penicillin worked against different venereal diseases.

Espada said about 10 American and 12 Guatemalan doctors were involved in the two-year study.

The Guatemalan government plans to run ads in coming months, seeking to identify people who were victims of the research programme.

In October, US President Barack Obama called Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom to apologise. Earlier, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement saying "we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health".

The NIH-funded experiment, which ran from 1946 to 1948, was uncovered by a Wellesley College medical historian. It apparently was conducted to test if penicillin, then relatively new, could prevent some sexually transmitted infections. The study came up with no useful information and was hidden for decades.


The Guatemalan government has not yet taken a position on what kind of reparations should be made in the case.

But Espada, who is a medical doctor himself, noted that an international medical congress had been held in Guatemala around the time of the experiment, and that "the international medical community knew about it".

Espada said the doctors who participated in the study - headed by an American and a Guatemalan doctor, now both dead - "stressed that they wanted very pure races" to experiment on.

Guatemala's population is overwhelmingly Mayan Indian.

  • tennilleg - 2011-05-19 10:03

    Research that is equally horrifying still continues today for your personal hygiene and household cleaning products among many other things you buy everyday, the victims are just cats, dogs, rabbits, mice, and birds, and unfortunately they wont ever get the opportunity to claim damages.

      AquaticApe - 2011-05-19 12:00

      Using all primates in these evil medical experiments is reprehensible, as is the use of any other species. There are other means of ascertaining dangers and efficacies of chemicals without subjecting living, feeling beings to what amounts to torture.

  • croix - 2011-05-19 12:21

    Don't for one second think the high and mighty Americans are not guilty of many, many more such atrocities throughout history! Even today and not only involving animals...... the secret powers (in their quest for global dominance) will do ANYTHING,ANYTHING, ANYTHING!

  • jvdspuy - 2011-05-19 13:52

    Let's not forget the Americans who experimented with LSD, methamphetamines etc. on soldiers and people without their knowledge. I'm sure every country has experimented with their countrymen in some way or another without their knowledge.

  • Vusi - 2011-05-19 14:58

    This confirm that the AIDS was develop by Americans

      Kim - 2011-05-19 15:08

      No Vusi, it doesn't.

      barkers - 2011-05-21 09:14

      @Kim... Vusi is RIGHT!

  • Grunk - 2011-05-19 15:38

    There you go Slug. If I had said anything about this (which I knew about but was saving that and many, many other pieces of revolting US behaviour for appropriate occasions) you would, as usual, be accusing me of not knowing what I was talking about; being conspiracy nut; a hater of all things US etc - whoops, I plead guilty to the last one.

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