The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 1932 to 1972: implications for HIV education and AIDS risk education programs in the black community

Am J Public Health. 1991 Nov;81(11):1498-505. doi: 10.2105/ajph.81.11.1498.


The Tuskegee study of untreated syphilis in the Negro male is the longest nontherapeutic experiment on human beings in medical history. The strategies used to recruit and retain participants were quite similar to those being advocated for HIV/AIDS prevention programs today. Almost 60 years after the study began, there remains a trail of distrust and suspicion that hampers HIV education efforts in Black communities. The AIDS epidemic has exposed the Tuskegee study as a historical marker for the legitimate discontent of Blacks with the public health system. The belief that AIDS is a form of genocide is rooted in a social context in which Black Americans, faced with persistent inequality, believe in conspiracy theories about Whites against Blacks. These theories range from the belief that the government promotes drug abuse in Black communities to the belief that HIV is a manmade weapon of racial warfare. An open and honest discussion of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study can facilitate the process of rebuilding trust between the Black community and public health authorities. This dialogue can contribute to the development of HIV education programs that are scientifically sound, culturally sensitive, and ethnically acceptable.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Alabama
  • Black or African American*
  • Ethics, Medical / history*
  • Federal Government
  • Health Education
  • History, 20th Century
  • Human Experimentation / history*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nontherapeutic Human Experimentation
  • Patient Selection
  • Prejudice
  • Prospective Studies
  • Research Subjects
  • Syphilis / history*
  • Syphilis / therapy
  • Trust
  • United States
  • United States Public Health Service / history*
  • Withholding Treatment*