The Guatemala Syphilis Experiments: When the US Government facilitated the spread of STDs Purposefully

by Aadarsh Jain

The Guatemala Syphilis Experiments: When the US Government facilitated the spread of STDs Purposefully

May 8, 2021

The Guatemala syphilis experiment was an American experimental research program in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948. It is infamous for its illegal experiments on fragile human populations.

How It Started

Following WWII, the US government charged medical experts in the United States with formulating a method to avoid STD transmission while their soldiers mated with prostitutes. The antibiotic “Penicillin” was the first concept they came up with. They discovered that the antibiotic Penicillin would treat the STDs’ aftereffects. However, they were unsure if the medication should be used for long-term symptoms or cures or if it could be used for other STDs. They were still running low on Penicillin, so they had to make do with what they had. As a result, the Guatemala experiment was suggested.


The Guatemala Syphilis Experiment

The Guatemala experiments were based on the prison experiments, which took place in Terre Haute, Indiana, between 1943 and 1944. The scientists in Terre Haute faced many challenges when researching gonorrhoea, syphilis, and chancroid treatment. As a result, the majority of these Guatemala trials involved exploring various vaccination procedures. “Normal exposure,” in which syphilis-infected sex workers were used to infecting unsuspecting inmates, was one of the most controversial techniques used.

Most of the experiment was carried out in a 300-bed facility in a hospital in Guatemala City. They chose Guatemala as their prime location for the experiments because there was a massive population of prisoners and potential subjects. During the report, 1,308 troops, inmates, sex workers, and mental patients, ranging in age from 10 to 72, were deliberately subjected to STDs. In sex workers, syphilis was transmitted via the cervix; in inmates, it was transmitted by injection or close physical interaction with infected sex workers; and in mental patients, it was transmitted by injection, through rubbing of the penis, insertion of a needle below the lower jaw at the back of the skull to enter blood vessels or oral ingestion. 

The researchers started an STD treatment programme as a gesture of “goodwill” toward the Guatemalan government and supported the antibiotics study. A total of 820 subjects received medication for their illnesses, with more than 650 being in the intentional exposure category.

The Aftermath Of These Experiments

Until the early 2000s, the Guatemala tests were kept under wraps. Susan M. Reverby, an American historian, began an investigation into the original archives donated to the University of Pittsburgh in 1990. These supplies were sent to the federal government from Pittsburgh. After learning about the Guatemala experiments, US President Barack Obama called Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom on October 1, 2010, to apologize for the inhuman and corrupt conduct of the Research. 


Recommended for you

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More