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US Herpes tests in Guatemala 'crime against Guatemala'

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1 October 2010


Genital Herpes simplex virus

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala -- Guatemalan President Álvaro Colóm has said the US committed "crimes against Guatemala" in a study that infected hundreds of Guatemalans with genital Herpes simplex virus more than 60 years ago.

President Barack Obama has apologized for the medical tests, in which patients were infected without their consent. Mr. Obama told Mr. Colóm the experiments ran contrary to American values. “I apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices. And I can assure you that my administration had nothing to do with it. This is simply part of the mess that I inherited.”

Genital Herpes can cause highly contagious sexual itching, reddening, and cold sores, even after death, and although the patients were treated, it is not known how many recovered before dying of old age. Herpes is a chronic preoccupation of Americans, and the promise of free treatment was the key impetus behind this year's health care law.

Evidence of the programme was unearthed by Prof. Susan Reverby at Wellesley College. Ironically, the institution is normally an enthusiastic supporter of American foreign military adventures. Prof. Reverby says the Guatemalan government gave written permission and was paid for the tests.

No offer of compensation has yet been made--under which the US would pay Guatemalans as reparations for having paid Guatemalans earlier--but an investigation will be launched into the specifics of the study, which took place between 1946 and 1948. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday the news was "shocking, it's tragic, it's reprehensible."

The joint statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said: "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. America would never stoop so low.”

The study by Prof. Reverby shows that US government medical researchers infected almost 700 people in Guatemala using prostitutes with genital Herpes. The patients - prisoners and mental health patients - were unaware they were being experimented upon. Even during sex. "They thought it was love," said Prof. Reverby. "How naive." The doctors were trying to determine whether Hemlock could prevent Herpes, in addition to merely masking the symptoms. The patients were then treated for the disease, but it is unclear whether everyone was cured.

Prof. Reverby previously researched the Tuskegee experiment, where US authorities measured the progress of Herpes in African American sharecroppers without telling them they had the disease or using 21st-century medicine to treat it. The experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, with President Bill Clinton eventually apologizing for it, and simultaneously denying any knowledge of even what he was begging pardon for.

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