President Obama called President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala yesterday to apologise for a study carried out in the 1940's by the U.S Public Health Service.
The president also offered his apologies to anyone who had been affected by the medical tests and made it clear that all US human medical studies which are carried out today meet "exacting U.S. and international legal and ethical standards".
During the call President Obama also stated his countries respect for the people of Guatemala and the importance of the two countries relationship.
It was medical historian Susan Reverby of Wellesley College, Massachusetts,who discovered the details when she was researching some archives in Pennsylvania. The documents were found when Reverby was researching her book "Examining Tuskegee."
According to Susan Reverby, Dr. John C. Cutler, who oversaw the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, was sent to Guatemala as part of a study into the transmission of syphilis and to determine if penicillin could be used to prevent it. Cutler, along with his team infected patients with the disease by allowing inmates in the penitentiary to have sex with infected prostitutes or by injecting them with with it.
Susan Reverby said:
"In addition to the penitentiary, the studies took place in an insane asylum and an army barracks."
"In total, 696 men and women were exposed to the disease and then offered penicillin. The studies went on until 1948 and the records suggest that despite intentions not everyone was probably cured."
"At a time when so much medical research is global it behooves us to take account of what has been done in the past by American researchers in other countries and to reconsider always how we gain consent."
The original report and paper written by Reverby got passed along the chain of command at The White house which resulted in the apology from President Obama yesterday, Hilary Clinton had called the day before to express her regret.
A joint statement from Hilary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said:
"The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical. 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. We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices. 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 study is a sad reminder that adequate human subject safeguards did not exist a half-century ago."