THE United States has apologised for intentionally infecting people in Guatemala with sexually transmitted diseases in the 1940s.
US government researchers from the US Public Health Service infected Guatemalans with gonorrhea and syphilis between 1946 and 1948, according to Susan Reverby, a Wellesley College professor who discovered the experiment.
The project was co-sponsored by the Guatemalan Government, along with the National Institutes of Health and the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau.
While authorities gave permission for doctors to conduct the study, the subjects were unaware they were a part of the experiment.
Physicians were studying whether penicillin could be used to prevent early syphilis infection, whether better blood tests for the disease could be established and what dosages of penicillin cured the infection.
In a joint statement released today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the study clearly unethical and reprehensible.
“We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices,” the statement said.
“The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the United States, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala.”
The statement added that the US will be investigating the case.
The experiment’s 696 subjects included men in the Guatemala National Penitentiary and in an army barracks and men and women in the National Mental Health Hospital.
Doctors used prostitutes with syphilis to pass the disease to prisoners and then inoculated subjects by pouring syphilis bacteria onto abraded skin.
The subjects were given penicillin after they contracted the disease, but it is unclear whether everyone was cured.
Professor Reverby discovered the Guatemala study during her research on the Tuskegee experiment, according to NBC News.
That case involved syphilis-infected African-American men in Alabama who were told they were being treated for the disease but in fact were not provided treatment.