William "Bill" Jenkins The state epidemiologist who tried to stop the unethical Tuskegee syphilis experiments from the 1960s, died in the age of 73 years.
Dr. Jenkins died February 17 in Charleston, S.C. from complications of the inflammatory disease sarcoidosis – the same condition that led to the comedy Bernie Mac's death – his wife told The New York Times.
According to the paper, Jenkins worked as a statistician for the United States Public Health Service in the 60s when he first learned about the Tuskegee study. A colleague had told him about the trials while they were still going on, but did not give much detail, which made Jenkins do a little research on himself.
What he found were dozens of articles about it in medical journals, and that even some chapters of the US medical association supported it. However, the ethics of the experiment were not good with him and led Jenkins to devote the rest of his life to combat racism and injustice in the health sector.
In a study from 1932 to 1972, the federal government was experimenting with hundreds of black men in Macon County, Ala., Where Tuskegee is county, letting their syphilis go untreated to see how the curable disease worsened the human body. The men who did not know they had syphilis were deceived into believing in their suffering – as they were told was "bad blood" – being treated, as it was not.
What's worse, the study was conducted without informed consent from the participants.
Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, can cause brain damage, paralysis, loss of vision and even death if not marked. Some of the men completed the disease to their wives, who then transferred it to their children.
When Jenkins expressed concern about the study for his supervisor, he was told "don't worry about it," according to The Times. It turns out that the same supervisor was one of the researchers monitoring the racist experiment.
It was when Jenkins took the matter into his own hands and stated an article about the study he later sent to other black doctors and even a few local journalists. Because the article did not contain much background or other exploratory information, history has never received much traction, his wife says.
For Jenkins, the Tuskegee study confirmed what he already knew – that black Americans were discriminated against by the health service and medical research was biased.
Not much came from the Jenkins article until the epidemiologist for the health service Peter Buxtun exposed the study to The Associated Press, which later published an article describing the gravel in the Tuskegee experiments. The news sent shock waves across the country and completed the study entirely in 1972. Although his attempt to stop the experiment went pretty much unnoticed, Jenkins spent the rest of his career reducing diseases among African Americans and other peoples of color. As reported by the Times, Jenkins was among one of the first scientists at Centers to combat disease and prevention to recognize how dramatic AIDS influenced black men. He worked to reduce the disease rate in the black communities and was later appointed director of AIDS prevention for minorities at the CDC.
His efforts did not stop there. Jenkins was among those who forced the federal government to issue a formal apology to the survivors of the Tuskegee study, an apology that was delivered by President Bill Clinton in 1997. Jenkins also monitored government attendees healthcare which provides lifelong medical care to the men and their families and their families damaged by the experiment.
"What they deserve is the best medical care we can provide," Jenkins The Times told in 1997. "I am trying to give them the care I would give to my mother."
Jenkins survived by his wife. Dr. Diane Rowley and daughter Danielle Rowley-Jenkins.