National Transgender HIV Testing Day (NTHTD), recognized globally on the 18th of April each year, is a day to acknowledge the importance of regular HIV testing and status awareness. It’s also a day to recognize patient-centered care and HIV prevention for gender non-binary and transgender people. It is essential to keep improving on the milestones we’ve made to end the HIV epidemic and include the transgender community while at it.
NTHTD is an initiative that encourages health jurisdictions, community-based organizations, and HIV prevention efforts to develop transgender-specific HIV testing resources and campaign materials and host community events.
The truth is that transgender and non-binary people face challenges such as transphobic discrimination and HIV stigma that lower the chances of seeking HIV prevention and treatment. As a community and as individuals, we should be committed to promoting and supporting actions and conversations around the need for improved data on the effect of HIV on transgender people, the systemic barriers they experience while accessing care, and the representation of the transgender community in HIV intervention and surveillance planning.
Structural and social barriers prevent transgender people from attaining HIV care and prevention. These barriers include discrimination, stigma, social exclusion, and the absence of awareness of transgender health (gender-sensitive care) among medical care providers. Discrimination and stigma against transgender people create financial insecurity and create different challenges for transgender women and men.
It is crucial for transgender people need to know their status. Notably, HIV rates are higher among transgender women than in cisgendered women. It is vital to know your status to use HIV prevention tools like PrEP medication or embark on your journey towards ‘Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=)’ through treatment.
Many community organizations focus more on gay men (men who have sex with men). They don’t really include the transgender experience in the mission, vision, and founding identity of the organizations. Such a lack of representation and refusal by CBOs to include the transgender population in the organization’s identity is a challenge. It prevents transgender people from feeling empowered enough to shape and lead HIV prevention, testing, and treatment efforts. Transgender people must be involved because if not, there’ll be no one to define their experiences accurately.
At ground level, organizations can tear down these barriers by considering who the health outreach workers are. Such workers should be inclusive of the community they’re trying to serve and be able to represent the target population. Community-based organizations should also be aware of the language they use so that it isn’t offensive or triggering to transgender people or makes them feel like they’re not welcome in their efforts, leading them to avoid seeking services like HIV testing or treatment.
Stigma and fear keep many transgender people from getting HIV testing. They might think that if they get tested, and the results are positive, their life has changed, or it’s the end. While this may force them to face the lifestyle they live, not many people are willing to do that. Stigma and fear also prevent them from getting into treatment if they’re HIV positive or using HIV prevention medication.
Even though National Transgender HIV Testing Day is only one day a year, this doesn’t mean we should limit conversation around it to the 18th of April. This conversation must continue if we want the transgender and non-binary community to have proper access to HIV testing, prevention, and care.