Transwomen: high time to act

Unveiling of HIV dynamics among transgender women: a respondent-driven sampling study in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Grinsztejn B, Jalil EM, Monteiro L, Velasque L, Moreira RI, Garcia AC, Castro CV, Kruger A, Luz PM, Liu AY, McFarland W, Buchbinder S, Veloso VG, Wilson EC , for the Transcender Study Team. Lancet HIV. 2017 Feb 7. pii: S2352-3018(17)30015-2. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30015-2. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: The burden of HIV in transgender women (transwomen) in Brazil remains unknown. We aimed to estimate HIV prevalence among transwomen in Rio de Janeiro and to identify predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections.

Methods: We recruited transwomen from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by respondent-driven sampling. Eligibility criteria were self-identification as transwomen, being 18 years of age or older, living in Rio de Janeiro or its metropolitan area, and having a valid peer recruitment coupon. We recruited 12 seed participants from social movements and formative focus groups who then used peer recruitment coupons to refer subsequent peers to the study. We categorised participants as HIV negative, known HIV infected, or newly diagnosed as HIV infected. We assessed predictors of newly diagnosed HIV infections by comparing newly diagnosed with HIV-negative participants. We derived population estimates with the Respondent-Driven Sampling II estimator.

Findings: Between Aug 1, 2015, and Jan 29, 2016, we enrolled 345 eligible transwomen. 29.1% (95% CI 23.2-35.4) of participants had no previous HIV testing (adjusted from 60 participants), 31.2% (18.8-43.6) had HIV infections (adjusted from 141 participants), and 7.0% (0.0-15.9) were newly diagnosed as HIV infected (adjusted from 40 participants). We diagnosed syphilis in 28.9% (18.0-39.8) of participants, rectal chlamydia in 14.6% (5.4-23.8), and gonorrhoea in 13.5% (3.2-23.8). Newly diagnosed HIV infections were associated with black race (odds ratio 22.8 [95% CI 2.9-178.9]; p=0.003), travesti (34.1 [5.8-200.2]; p=0.0001) or transsexual woman (41.3 [6.3-271.2]; p=0.0001) gender identity, history of sex work (30.7 [3.5-267.3]; p=0.002), and history of sniffing cocaine (4.4 [1.4-14.1]; p=0.01).

Interpretation: Our results suggest that transwomen bear the largest burden of HIV among any population at risk in Brazil. The high proportion of HIV diagnosis among young participants points to the need for tailored long-term health-care and prevention services to curb the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life of transwomen in Brazil.

Abstract access  [1]

Editor’s notes: This is a must-read paper for anyone interested in good participatory practices (GPP) in research and/or gender identity and HIV risk, and/or respondent driven sampling (RDS) research techniques. The researchers engaged the transwomen community from the outset in the very apt naming of the project – Transcender – and the study design – appropriate language and participant-sensitive procedures. Three community members were part of the study implementation team and the analyses were refined and written with trans community input. Although eligibility criteria included self-identification as transwomen, study participants included 131 travesti (transvestites), 107 transsexual women, 96 women, and 11 people with other gender identities. Transwomen who self-identified as women had the lowest odds of newly diagnosed HIV infection. This underscores the importance of exploring whether and how greater internal or external gender identity acceptance might confer a protective effect for HIV acquisition, perhaps through ability to use medical services through to transition, which might reduce the risk of violence. The RDS-weighted characteristics of the study participants are striking: 97% had ever experienced discrimination, 49% had ever been subjected to physical violence, and 42% had ever been raped. As for the RDS methodology itself, recruitment began with 12 seeds generating 3.6 (range two to seven) recruitment waves over a period of 26 weeks, with one seed generating 23% of the study sample. Although confidence intervals are wide, detected associations are of high magnitude and significant. With respect to homophily (the tendency to recruit others like oneself), it was moderate for HIV status and race and strong for history of sex work. Further, what are the immediate implications of the findings? Among the 29% of participants who were newly diagnosed as having HIV, nearly half reported no previous HIV testing and 44% reported a negative HIV test in the previous year. Offering pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to the latter transwomen could have prevented them from acquiring HIV. In addition to addressing the social exclusion and marginalization that creates the structural context of HIV risk for transwomen, it is critical to achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target that we move effectively to remove barriers to health care access. These include fighting stigma and discrimination, tackling transphobia, penalizing and preventing physical and sexual violence, and offering immediate antiretroviral therapy to people living with HIV and to offer immediate PrEP to people found to be HIV-negative.   


Latin America [6]
Brazil [7]
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