Dr. Fauci: The U.S. Government Injected Black Men With Syphilis, I Understand Skepticism

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Written by Ann Brown
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Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a BET News interview that the U.S. government injected Black men with syphilis. He said he gets the skepticism over taking part in medical studies. Photo: Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House, April 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon). A man included in a syphilis study has blood drawn by a doctor in Tuskegee, Ala., in this 1950s photo released by the National Archives. For 40 years starting in 1932, medical workers in the segregated South withheld treatment for unsuspecting men infected with a sexually transmitted disease simply so doctors could track the ravages of the horrid illness and dissect their bodies afterward. Finally exposed in 1972, the study ended and the men sued, resulting in a $9 million settlement. (National Archives via AP)/ Dr. Anthony

Black people are at higher risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus than other groups but are hesitant to take part in medical studies such as vaccines.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said he gets the skepticism from Black people. A physician and immunologist, Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the leading expert on covid-19.

A majority of Black adults — 57 percent — say the risks of expanding experimental treatments outweigh the benefits, according to a recent survey, while 41 percent say the benefits outweigh the risks. More than half of Black adults (54 percent) say they would definitely or probably get a coronavirus vaccine if one was available today, while 44 percent say they would not. Meanwhile, 74  percent of white adults said they would get the vaccine, Pew Research reported.

Federal government data has also shown that Black Americans tend to have lower vaccination rates than other racial and ethnic groups.

In a video interview with BET’s Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Fauci said he understands why Black people feel this way. It goes back to the Tuskegee Experiment, BET reported.

The Black community still suffers from the painful memory of those 600 African American men in 1932 who were injected with syphilis as part of the Tuskegee Experiment, which was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service. 

The men were unaware that they were being used as guinea pigs for a 40-year study. Then in the 1980s and 1990s, the National Institutes of Health-funded research to test AIDS drugs on hundreds of infected poor, Black foster kids in New York City. 

“We have a history that has gotten much, much better lately, in the last few decades, but a bad news history going back to things like Tuskegee,” Fauci told Hill. “We have African Americans who have sickle cell disease who come into the emergency room in terrible pain. And, you know, there’s sometimes a reluctance to give them the pain medication that they need. So those are the kinds of things that it’s understandable why there’s skepticism among African Americans regarding the typical classical medical establishment.”

Dr. Fauci went on to discuss that the NIH is now using a model he first created at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic where using community engagement and outreach and leveraging those relationships made all the difference in protecting vulnerable communities. 

“We developed relationships with community reps who were trusted by the African-American community, because they were reflecting the African American community,” Fauci said. “You want to go into the African American community with people who look and think and act like the people you’re trying to convince. You get the community people on the ground to go in and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you, I’ve scoped this out. This is something for your own benefit’”. 

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When asked what could be done to improve health care access for the most vulnerable covid patients, particularly poor Black people, Fauci talked about the need for awareness in hospitals.

“First of all, a great awareness of the need that if you’re African American and you get infected, it is more likely you’re going to have a serious outcome. So we’ve got to just get a public awareness on the part of clinics and hospitals that you have to pay special attention to that, you have someone at a greater risk,” Fauci said. “The longer-term one is something that you’re not going to cure overnight, and that is the economic and other conditions that African Americans find themselves in that they’re not in a situation where they get greater access to health care from a more of an economic standpoint,” CBS reported.