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Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia 2014 August;149(4):461-9


language: English

Medical, demographical and social aspects of syphilis: the case of infected sex workers in Greece during Interwar

Pagratis N. 1, Tsiamis C. 1, 2, Mandyla M. 1, Bampounis C. 3, Anoyatis-Pele D. 1

1 Postgraduate Program Historical Demography, Faculty of History, Ionian University of Corfu, Corfu, Greece; 2 Athens Medical School, University of Athens, Athens, Greece; 3 Department of Primary Education, University of Athens, Athens, Greece


The aim of this research is to present syphilis among women described as “indecent” according to the records of the Venereal Diseases Hospital “Andreas Syggros”, which is located in Athens, during the period 1931-1935. In impoverished Greece of the Interwar period, factors such as criminal ignorance, or lack of information on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) along with inadequate health controls of sex workers, resulted in a dramatic spread of syphilis, whereas “Andreas Syggros” hospital accommodated thousands of patients. The inflow of 1.300.000 Greek refugees from Asia Minor, after the Greek defeat by the Turkish army in the war of 1922, resulted in a notable change in the demographics of the country, while the combination of miserable living conditions, unemployment, economic crisis of the Interwar period, political instability and dysfunction of the State led to an increased number of illegal sex workers and syphilis outbreaks. Despite the introduction of an ad hoc Act to control STDs since 1923, the State was unable to limit the transmissibility of syphilis and to control prostitution. Unfortunately, the value of this historical paradigm is borne out by a contemporary example, i.e. the scandal of HIV seropositive sex workers in -beset by economic crisis- Greece in May 2012. It turns out that ignorance, failure to comply with the law, change in the mentality of the citizens in an economically ruined society, and most notably dysfunction of public services during periods of crisis, are all risk factors for the spread of serious infectious diseases.

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