CDC: One in Seven Transgender Women Have HIV

Transgender, intergender, LGBT -- the vocabulary of gender identity is evolving as the old dividing line between the sexes is increasingly being called into question
AFP/File NORBERTO DUARTE
DR. SUSAN BERRY

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a “Dear Colleague” letter Wednesday with warnings about the high prevalence and risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) among transgender individuals.

“Transgender women and men are at high risk for getting HIV,” stated CDC in the letter signed by Eugene McCray, M.D. and Jonathan H. Mermin, M.D., MPH, of the agency’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

CDC, a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stated:

According to current estimates, about 1 in 7 (14%) transgender women have HIV, and the percentage is much higher among black/African American (44%) and Hispanic/Latina (26%) transgender women.* An estimated 3% of transgender men have HIV.

The “Dear Colleague” letter continued:

Many transgender people face obstacles that make it harder to access HIV services—such as stigma and discrimination, inadequate employment or housing, and limited access to welcoming, supportive health care. Addressing these barriers is essential to the health and well-being of transgender people and to meeting the goals of the proposed federal initiative Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is committed to working with you to make sure all transgender people can get the tools they need to prevent HIV and stay healthy if they have HIV.

The CDC’s warning about HIV among transgender individuals comes as the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.N.’s global health agency, recently announced that individuals who claim to be transgender no longer should be labeled with a mental illness.

Anticipating the upcoming publication of the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the WHO stated it has removed gender incongruence from its list of mental illnesses “to reduce the stigma” that may come with claiming to be a gender that is incongruent with one’s actual biological sex.

The WHO said simply stating transgender individuals are not mentally ill will promote “better social acceptance of individuals living with gender incongruence.”

“It was taken out from mental health disorders because we had better understanding that this wasn’t actually a mental health condition,” said Dr. Lale Say, the coordinator of the adolescents and at-risk populations team at the WHO. “Leaving it there was causing stigma, so in order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions this was placed to a different chapter, the sexual health chapter, in the new ICD.”

“The decision was not only based on the advocacy or feedback from the concerned communities,” she continued. “All available evidence was reviewed and discussed by an external advisory group and together with the scientific basis of this condition and the feedback from the professional community and concerned communities formed the basis of this decision.”

Say referenced a similar decision “on removing homosexuality out of ICD completely.”

“This again was based on the scientific understanding that there was no clear evidence that this issue needs to be medicalized,” she said.

According to the WHO, the version of ICD-11 that will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May 2019 will go into effect officially on January 1, 2022.

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