Transgender Women and HIV: A Problem that Needs Attention

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July 26, 2015; National Public Radio

Transgender women are 49 times likelier to be living with HIV than the rest of the population. Among sex workers, transgender women are nine times likelier to have HIV than their non-transgender counterparts.  These are two statistics that JoAnne Keatley, one of the authors of a new World Health Organization publication, wants us to focus on.

In an interview on National Public Radio, Keatley blames “(t)he refusal of governments to pass legislation that allows [transgender people] to function in society” for this situation. This, she adds, makes it hard for them to participate in the workforce, and leads to a high participation of transgender women in the sex industry.

The WHO publication notes, “Transgender people are often socially, economically, politically and legally marginalized.”  Titled, “Policy brief: Transgender people and HIV,” it highlights WHO recommendations on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment care, and the needs of transgender people.

Keatley says it is aimed at educating governments, “(s)o that health organizations will have some clarity around who the population is and what makes them distinct from other sexual and gender minorities.”

“Trans people struggle in order to obtain identity documents that allow them to participate in the workforce,” Keatley continues. “Many trans people are not able to obtain health coverage. All of the ways in which we’re denied opportunities to participate in a meaningful way in society then lead us to situations where there is additional risk-taking behavior. Often, for example, trans women have to rely on industries such as the sex work industry. And so that comes along with a lot of additional stigma from criminal justice.”

Keatley is a transgender woman herself. She works at the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, University of California, San Francisco.

The NPQ Newswire reported last week that the New Zealand government was the first national government to officially recognize “gender diverse” people, which includes transgender people.—John Godfrey