Studies undertaken in early 2020 uncovered extremely high rates of HIV among transgender women living in major U.S. cities, with Black and Native American trans women especially susceptible to the disease.
The research was compiled by the Centers for Disease Control before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and looked at trans women in seven American cities: Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco. Of all the 1,608 women studied, 4 in 10 were found to be HIV-positive. That number itself is very high compared to other populations, but the rates of HIV were even worse for Black and Native American/Alaska Native trans women.
Among Black trans women taking part in the study, 62 percent were living with HIV, while 65 percent of Native trans women were HIV-positive. Among Latinas, 35 percent were living with HIV, while 17 percent of white trans women were shown to be positive.
As reported in The 19th, the statistics may not represent trans women as a whole or even trans women in urban centers since CDC researchers focused on areas and populations with an elevated risk of HIV. An earlier study looking at trans women across all races found an HIV rate of 14 percent.
While the CDC numbers are dispiriting to HIV advocates, they do represent one advance — an increase in research on trans women and HIV. Previously, trans women were usually lumped in with gay and bisexual men when it came to studies, or simply ignored altogether.
“A lot more efforts are needed to study representative samples of transgender populations to give us better population-wide estimates,” distinguished senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, told The 19th.
Still, the latest numbers represent an urgent need to understand the factors that contribute to the high rates of HIV among trans women.
“These data provide a clear and compelling picture of the severe toll of HIV among transgender women and the social and economic factors — including systemic racism and transphobia — that are contributing to this unacceptable burden,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, in a statement.