Transgender Women and HIV Prevention and Care


Transgender Women and HIV Prevention and Care

‘Transgender women’ is an umbrella term to refer to persons who identify as women or trans women, or who have a feminine gender identity that differs from the male sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender women may identify with certain terms and not others and may express gender in a variety of ways. Gender identity terms vary by geographic region, race, ethnicity, age, and other factors, so it is best to ask people what they prefer. Best practices for obtaining information on gender identity in the context of research and health services continue to evolve.1

Transgender Women and HIV Risk

Transgender women are at disproportionate risk for HIV; an estimated 19.1% of transgender (‘trans’) women are living with HIV, according to a meta-analysis of studies from around the world.2 Internationally, trans women have 49 times higher odds of living with HIV compared to the general adult population;3 in the US they have the highest rates of new diagnoses by gender.4 Black and Latina trans women experience an extremely high HIV burden; more than half of trans people diagnosed with HIV are Black (44%) or Hispanic/Latinx (26%).5 Intersectional stigma—oppression rooted in racism, transphobia, and misogyny6fuels structural vulnerabilities among trans women of color7-9 and has been linked with trauma symptoms, inconsistent condom use, suboptimal PrEP and ART adherence, and detectable viral load.10-12 Like many populations, those at greatest risk are more likely to be poor, homeless, young, people of color, and engage in sex work.13,14

Not all trans women are at risk for HIV; however, stigma and discrimination faced by trans women often results in social marginalization, increasing risk of poor health outcomes.15 Social isolation and rejection by family members is common, which can lead to anxiety, depression, experiencing homelessness at a young age, and heightened risk of suicidal ideation and attempts.16,17 School-based stigma and bullying make young trans women vulnerable to dropping out and poor mental health, disrupting education and employment pathways.18-20 Sex work, recent homelessness, and school dropout are associated with incarceration, which trans women experience at higher rates than the general population.21

HIV Prevention and Care for Transgender Women

The provision of gender-affirming HIV prevention and care services is of utmost importance to serving trans women effectively.22 Trans people often report avoiding health care settings due to stigma and past negative experiences; when seeking care, they tend to prioritize gender-affirming medical care, such as hormone therapy, over HIV prevention services such as PrEP.23-25 Barriers to PrEP use among trans women include low PrEP awareness, concerns about drug interactions with hormone therapy, and low access to gender-affirming care.26-28 A 2020 national probability sample of trans people found only 3% of sexually active respondents were currently taking PrEP.29

Efficacious prevention programming prioritizing the needs of trans women has increased in the last decade, although much work remains. The first National Transgender HIV Testing Day was held on April 18, 2016. In 2018, the Health Resources and Services Administration Special Projects of National Significance Division published the Transgender Women of Color Initiative: Project Interventions Manual and then in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published their Toolkit for Providing HIV Prevention Services to Transgender Women of Color. Trans women experience unique barriers to prevention and care, and therefore, trans women should not be subsumed into MSM programming.30 Research consistently demonstrates that programs based in gender affirmation have the greatest impact in optimizing health outcomes for trans women.31-38

Training for healthcare providers in creating inclusive, gender-affirming clinical environments. Quality, affirming healthcare is important for trans women. Despite their sincere concern to serve patients effectively, providers may have very little knowledge, experience, skills and therefore comfort with trans patients though the availability of transgender-specific training for medical students is increasing39. UCSF Transgender Care provides free online resources for healthcare providers and other professionals for guidance on staff training, creating welcoming spaces, and data collection.

HIV Testing and Prevention. Three interventions designed for trans women have demonstrated efficacy with reducing risk and increasing HIV testing. Couples HIV Intervention Program (CHIP) is designed for trans women and their cisgender male partners as an intervention to support the couple and promote HIV testing and safe sex practices. Project Life Skills is a group-based intervention for young trans women focused on communication skills and condom negotiation. Sheroes is an intervention for adult trans women of color comprised of five weekly group sessions emphasizing healthcare empowerment and gender affirmation.40 Facilitating PrEP use among HIV prevention strategies is a developing area in services that prioritize trans women. Recent research provides emerging evidence for a trans-specific advertising campaign promoting PrEP use (PrEP4Love)41 and there is also emerging evidence for a program to increase PrEP adherence using peer navigators (A.S.K.-PrEP).42

Linkage and retention in HIV care. Transgender Women Entry and Engagement to Care Project (TWEET) is a group-based intervention to link transgender women living with HIV to care and support their engagement in care. Transgender Women Involved in Strategies for Transformation (TWIST) is a peer-led, small-group, skills-building, and educational high-impact prevention (HIP) intervention for adult trans women living with HIV. Healthy Divas combines individual sessions with a peer counselor and a group workshop with a medical provider to promote engagement in gender-affirming and HIV medical care.43-45

Unaddressed Needs of Transgender Women

To address the devastating effects of stigma and discrimination on trans people, large-scale anti-stigma campaigns, as well as anti-discrimination laws, should be implemented across the country. Structural interventions such as job training, housing, and educational programs should be widely implemented and evaluated. Ongoing capacity building and sensitivity training should be provided for healthcare workers, school officials, service providers, and researchers working with trans women. More research is needed with sexual partners of trans women, as well as programs that work with trans women and partners together as a couple.46 Finally, more research should be done with trans youth to identify and develop strategies for HIV prevention for young adults identifying as trans and gender diverse.47 Interventions and programs that leverage the inherent resilience and support networks within trans communities are also promising approaches to optimizing health outcomes among trans women.48



Fact Sheet Date Authors
September 2008 / Revised 2015

JoAnne Keatley MSW / CAPS and Pacific AETC

Walter Bockting Ph.D. / University of Minnesota
Revised June 2021

Beth Bourdeau, Ph.D. / Division of Prevention Science

Jae Sevelius, Ph.D. / Division of Prevention Science

Greg Rebchook, Ph.D. / Division of Prevention Science

Jenna Rapues, MPH / San Francisco Department of Public Health

Nasheedah Bynes-Muhammad/ The Journey Partners LLC


Says who?

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