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PAHO Statement on STI Experiments in Guatemala

1 October 2010. We have just listened to a press briefing by Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, who discussed experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s, in which prisoners and other vulnerable groups were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases.  Dr. Collins said these experiments were “deeply disturbing” and “reprehensible,” and we agree.  We join the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of State in deploring these experiments.  

This research was conducted by the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory of the Public Health Service and venereal disease experts from Guatemala, with funds given to the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (PAHO’s precursor) by the U.S. Institutes of Health, and with some cooperation by Guatemalan authorities. Dr. John Cutler, who conducted these experiments and worked on the infamous Tuskegee experiments, was then a Public Health Service medical officer.  

We are just learning details of these experiments, and the US Institute of Medicine is now conducting an investigation.

The Organization has established strong ethical standards for research it sponsors or is associated with to prevent such abuses for many years now. 

Currently, research ethics in PAHO is overseen by the PAHO Ethics Review Committee (PAHOERC), an interdisciplinary group of up to 13 professionals. The PAHOERC review process ensures that all research with human subjects in which PAHO is involved meets international ethical standards in accordance with three basic ethical principles: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice. 

We deeply regret the past ethical violations revealed this week and we are committed to cooperating fully with Member States, particularly the United States and Guatemala, to clarify these events and to ensure that such ethical violations are never allowed to take place again in the name of public health.

 

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