In this 1950s file photo released by the National Archives, men included in a syphilis study pose for a photo in Tuskegee, Ala.

Fifty years after officials halted one of the most unethical public health studies in United States history, the societal effects of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the health injustices it represents remain prevalent in the area, according to new research from Tulane University and Auburn University.

From 1932 until 1972, doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service ran a study in Macon County that included 600 Black men, many of whom were sharecroppers and had never been to a doctor’s office. Of that number, 399 of the men had the bacterial infection syphilis, and the remaining 201 men did not. Doctors told all of them that they were being treated for “bad blood.”  

About 11 years into the study, penicillin became the widely available treatment for syphilis. However, the doctors in Tuskegee opted not to provide effective care to the participants, instead watching them suffer from severe side effects from their untreated infection with the goal of tracking syphilis’ progression to death.

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