AIDS 2014: Men who have sex with men and transgender women have risks and resilience

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AIDS2014postScience Speaks is live-blogging from AIDS 2014 in Melbourne, Australia through the week, with updates on research, policy and insights from the 20th International AIDS Conference.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA –  During the opening plenary today, Beatriz Grinszteijn offered insights about men with have sex with men and transgender women echoing many of the themes raised in this conference from a dearth of research on transgender women to the stigma, discrimination and violence that fuels the high levels of HIV infection in these populations.

She outlined some of the reasons for high HIV infection rates from efficient transmission of HIV through receptive anal intercourse, high rates of other sexually transmitted infections, sexual networks where recent HIV infections accelerate transmission through the network.  Notably, she said that a significant proportion of new HIV cases come from main sexual partners because they tend to have more sex and are less likely to use condoms. Grinszteijn also pointed out that this is a young group and young men and transgender women are less likely to seek health care services in general.

A lack of competent medical providers only exacerbates health care access challenge.  Despite the social, legal and political challenges faced by men who have sex with men and transgender women, members of these communities have shown a great deal of resilience, she said, and interventions to increase resilience should be evaluated.

Grinsztejn put forth a number of additional key research priorities for these populations—the evaluation of tailored, combination prevention packages, evaluation of adherence interventions, and studies designed to specifically address transgender women.

Concluding with an acknowledgment of the tremendous impact of homophobia and transphobia on the lives of gay men and transgender women including elevating their risk of HIV infection, she shared this quote from Paul Semugoma from an International AIDS Society blog post in May of this year: “The barriers to access to HIV services, including education and support, stand before us like mountains – mountains of fear, mountains of prejudice, mountains of ignorance. These barriers, including those that come from within us, need to be overcome.”

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