Guatemala fury over US sex disease tests

GUATEMALANS have slammed a US confession that it led a 1940s study in their country in which hundreds of people were deliberately infected with STDs.

“No matter how much of a superpower it is, the US cannot do this kind of experimentation,” Nery Rodenas, the chief of the human rights office at the Archbishop of Guatemala’s office, said yesterday.

“They used Guatemalans as lab rats. It is important that family members receive some kind of compensation.”

Politician Zury Rios also urged compensation for not only the victims, but the nation as a whole.

“It is just not enough to say you are sorry. We need to be compensated as a (sovereign) state, maybe with the funding of a solid sex and reproductive health program,” she insisted.

In a phone conversation with President Alvaro Colom over the weekend, US President Barack Obama expressed his deep regret for the experiment conducted by US public health researchers in Guatemala between 1946 and 1948, and apologised “to all those affected”.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the study was “clearly unethical”, adding that “although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health”.

“The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the US, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala,” she said, adding that the US would investigate the specifics of the case and whether it could lead to reparation.

The study, which was never published, came to light this year after Wellesley College professor Susan Reverby stumbled upon archived documents outlining the 1940s experiment led by controversial US public health doctor John Cutler.

Cutler and fellow researchers enrolled people in Guatemala, including the mentally ill, for the study, which aimed to find out if penicillin, relatively new in the 1940s, could be used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Investigators found no evidence that study participants had given informed consent and subjects were often deceived about what was done to them.

Cutler was also involved in a highly controversial study known as the Tuskegee Experiment, in which hundreds of African-American men with late-stage syphilis were observed but given no treatment, for 40 years between 1932 and 1972.

Initially, the researchers infected female Guatemalan commercial sex workers with gonorrhea or syphilis, then allowed them to have unprotected sex with soldiers or prison inmates.

A total of 1500 people took part. At least one patient died during the experiments, although it is not clear whether the death was from the tests or from an underlying medical problem.

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