Presentation Title

Containment, Venereal Disease, and U.S. Public Health Services in Cold War Guatemala

Start Date

November 2016

End Date

November 2016

Location

Watkins 1117

Type of Presentation

Oral Talk

Abstract

This paper examines the impacts of the United States Public Health Services in Latin America through a multi-layered study of the Guatemalan Syphilis Experiment conducted between 1946-1953. By examining this historically important case, I clarify the process by which Public Health doctors from both the United States and Guatemala inoculated commercial sex workers, prisoners, and the mentally ill with venereal disease to study the effectiveness of the newly found antibiotic, penicillin, to contain the spread of syphilis, and gonorrhea. The time period studied includes the introduction of the U.S. policy of containment in the western hemisphere and urgency to contain the spread of venereal disease due to the return of U.S. soldiers who fought abroad during World War II. Evidence has been collected from the Dr. John C. Cutler records that include unpublished reports, journals, surveys, and photographs. Some view doctors, public health services, or government elites as the agents driving medical change, but typically these groups use disempowered people as leverage to benefit a privileged population. The Guatemalan syphilis experiment attempted to find penicillin to be the solution to the pressing problem of U.S. military medicine. However, these experiments resulted in violent and dehumanizing procedures of coerced sexual intercourse and direct inoculation of venereal disease that led to syphilis infected bodies and death of indigenous Guatemalans.

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Nov 12th, 3:30 PM Nov 12th, 3:45 PM

Containment, Venereal Disease, and U.S. Public Health Services in Cold War Guatemala

Watkins 1117

This paper examines the impacts of the United States Public Health Services in Latin America through a multi-layered study of the Guatemalan Syphilis Experiment conducted between 1946-1953. By examining this historically important case, I clarify the process by which Public Health doctors from both the United States and Guatemala inoculated commercial sex workers, prisoners, and the mentally ill with venereal disease to study the effectiveness of the newly found antibiotic, penicillin, to contain the spread of syphilis, and gonorrhea. The time period studied includes the introduction of the U.S. policy of containment in the western hemisphere and urgency to contain the spread of venereal disease due to the return of U.S. soldiers who fought abroad during World War II. Evidence has been collected from the Dr. John C. Cutler records that include unpublished reports, journals, surveys, and photographs. Some view doctors, public health services, or government elites as the agents driving medical change, but typically these groups use disempowered people as leverage to benefit a privileged population. The Guatemalan syphilis experiment attempted to find penicillin to be the solution to the pressing problem of U.S. military medicine. However, these experiments resulted in violent and dehumanizing procedures of coerced sexual intercourse and direct inoculation of venereal disease that led to syphilis infected bodies and death of indigenous Guatemalans.