New US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield, MD, set an ambitious goal for the agency’s staff: ending the HIV epidemic in the nation “in the next three to seven years.”
In his remarks, as reported by The Hill on March 30th, Dr. Rosenfeld cited the advances made in therapeutics, including HIV prophylaxis, and the resources now widely available to at-risk populations, including condoms and screening programs. However, advocates within the HIV/AIDS arena note that significant challenges remain.
Among them: Addressing the incidence of the disease among transgender populations and encouraging those who identify as transgender to get tested.
Since 2016, the US public health community has observed National Transgender HIV Testing Day each April 18th. In announcing its efforts in connection with the event, in an email sent out last week, the CDC shared some troubling statistics: according to the agency, 22 percent to 28 percent of transgender women are living with HIV, as are an estimated 56 percent of black/African-American transgender women. A paper published in 2016 suggests that as many as 1 million Americans currently identify as transgender.
“[National Transgender HIV Testing Day] is an opportunity for transgender people to get tested for HIV and know their status, and to promote HIV prevention and treatment efforts,” the agency said in its email last week. “HIV testing is the first step for people living with HIV to begin treatment, which can keep them healthy. The sooner people living with HIV learn their status and start treatment, the more they benefit. Treatment can also help prevent transmission to others: people living with HIV who take their HIV medicine as prescribed and achieve and maintain viral suppression have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to HIV-negative sexual partners.”
Almost 40,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS are diagnosed annually in the United States, the CDC reports. Although cases among transgender individuals are relatively rare — with a little more than 2300 documented diagnoses between 2009 and 2014, according to the agency — they may also be under-reported because of what officials describe as the “challenges in accurately identifying and reporting gender identity in HIV surveillance.”
In tandem with this year’s National Transgender HIV Testing Day, the CDC has implemented several initiatives in order to improve testing rates among transgender Americans, including providing additional funding to community-based organizations offering testing programs as well as bolstering Project PrIDE, which supports health departments’ efforts to provide PrEP to transgender women. The agency will also be offering new continuing medical education programs designed to assist healthcare providers in delivering patient-centered HIV prevention and care to transgender individuals.