Home / Health / Dr. Bill Jenkins, an epidemiologist who fought to denounce a racist experience of syphilis in Tuskegee, died at the age of 73

Dr. Bill Jenkins, an epidemiologist who fought to denounce a racist experience of syphilis in Tuskegee, died at the age of 73

William "Bill" Jenkins, the government epidemiologist who attempted to put an end to Tuskegee's unethical experiments on syphilis in the 1960s, died at the age of 73.

Dr. Jenkins died on February 17 in Charleston, South Carolina, from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease – the same illness that led to the death of comedian Bernie Mac, his wife told The New York Times.

Dr. Bill Jenkins
Dr. Bill Jenkins also worked on reducing AIDS in the Black community and later became Director of Minority AIDS Prevention. at the CDC. (Courtesy of UNC.edu image)

According to the newspaper, Jenkins was working as a statistician for the United States Public Health Service in the 1960s when he learned of the existence of the Tuskegee study. A colleague had told him about the experiments as they were going on, but he did not give much details, which prompted Jenkins to do a little research himself.

He discovered dozens of articles about it in medical journals and that even some chapters of the American Medical Association supported him. However, the ethics of the experiment did not please him and led Jenkins to devote the rest of his life to the fight against racism and injustices in the health care industry.

In a study from 1932 to 1972, the federal government experimented with hundreds of black men in Macon County, Alaska, where Tuskegee is the county seat, allowing their syphilis not to to be treated to see how the curable disease ravaged man. body. The men, who did not know they had syphilis, were led to believe that their illness – which they had been told was "bad blood" – was treated when in fact it was not the case .

Worse, the study was conducted without the informed consent of the participants.

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, can cause brain damage, paralysis, loss of vision and even death if it is not controlled. Some of the men eventually transmitted the disease to their wives, who then passed it on to their children.

When Jenkins shared his concerns about the study with his supervisor, he was told to "do not worry about it," according to the Times. It turns out that this same supervisor was one of the researchers who monitored the racist experience.

It was at this point that Jenkins took matters into his own hands and wrote an article about the study that he then sent to other black doctors and even some local reporters. Because the article did not include much background or other exploratory information, however, the story did not have much success, said his wife.

For Jenkins, the Tuskegee study confirmed what he already knew: the health system discriminated against black Americans and medical research was based on racial prejudice.

Jenkins' article did not do much until health services epidemiologist Peter Buxtun exposed the study to The Associated Press, who then published an article detailing the horrors of Tuskegee's experiments. . The news sent shock waves all over the country and completely ended the study in 1972.

Although his attempts to end the experiment went largely unnoticed, Jenkins spent the rest of his career reducing the number of diseases among African Americans and people of color. As the Times reports, Jenkins is one of the world's leading researchers. The centers for the control and prevention of diseases recognize the dramatic impact of AIDS on black men. He worked to reduce disease rates in Black communities and was later appointed Director of Minority AIDS Prevention at CDC.

His efforts did not stop there. Jenkins was one of those who forced the federal government to make a formal apology to the survivors of the Tuskegee study, apologies made by the then President. Bill Clinton Jenkins also oversaw the health insurance program for government participants, which provides free lifelong medical care to men, their families and their families who are victims of the experiment.

"What they deserve, it's the best medical care we can provide," Jenkins told the Times in 1997. "I'm trying to give them the care I'd like to give my mother." . "

Jenkins is survived by his wife. Diane Rowley and her daughter Danielle Rowley-Jenkins.

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