Breaking ground in the Middle East: HIV risk among transgender people

Although transgender women are among the most at-risk populations for HIV worldwide, few studies have been conducted to determine the most effective ways to reduce their risk. And while some inroads have been made in understanding the sexual health needs of transgender women in the United States, there is an urgent need for research to inform culturally relevant programs in other countries and settings worldwide.

The UCSF Bixby Center is helping to better understand HIV among transgender women and their unique health needs. We are breaking ground in the Middle East, where HIV risk among transgender populations is mostly uncharted territory. Our newly launched study in Lebanon is the first National Institutes of Health-funded project in the region that focuses solely on the health needs of trans feminine individuals.

Working with the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality and the Marsa Sexual Health Center, the project is addressing health disparities among trans feminine people in Lebanon by adapting an existing HIV prevention program for the local cultural context. The first phase, already underway, involves interviews and focus group discussions with trans feminine people in the capital of Beirut. We plan to analyze and report on these findings later this year and next.

Ultimately, we hope to help mitigate the impact of HIV and other negative health outcomes among this underserved population with a sustainable, relevant, and culturally appropriate intervention that prioritizes transgender women’s involvement and leadership. The longer-term goal is to apply the lessons learned in Lebanon for use among other trans feminine communities in the greater Middle East region and beyond.