de Villiers L, Thomas A, Jivan D, Hoddinott G, Hargreaves JR, Bond V, Stangl A, Bock P, Reynolds L; HPTN 071 (PopART) study team. Stigma and HIV service access among transfeminine and gender diverse women in South Africa - a narrative analysis of longitudinal qualitative data from the HPTN 071 (PopART) trial. BMC Public Health. 2020, 20: 1898. PMC7727216
Background: Transgender women have a disproportionately high HIV prevalence compared to cisgender women and men who have sex with men, which puts them at risk of HIV-related stigma (Baral SD et al., Lancet Infect Dis, 13;3, 2013). People whose gender identities are in tension with dominant social norms (including transgender women) often also experience gender identity-related stigma. There has been increasing attention to transgender people in HIV research and interventions. However, very little research has been done in sub-Saharan African countries. Methods: We conducted a qualitative cohort study which included eight transfeminine and/or gender diverse women (four living with HIV) in Western Cape, South Africa, for a follow-up period of 12-18 months. Using a narrative analysis approach, we set out to understand how transfeminine and gender diverse participants in the cohort anticipated, experienced and internalised HIV stigma and gender identity stigma, and how these stigmas affected HIV service access. Result: We found that participants reported anticipated, experienced, and internalised stigma relating both to their gender identity and to living with HIV. Participants reported inconsistent uptake of antiretroviral therapy (ART) services (including ART initiation and adherence) that they linked to stigma. We also found that gender diverse women and transfeminine women are challenged with other stigmatising social identities, like being a sex worker, drug user and/or a man (or assigned male sex at birth) who have sex with men (MSM). We use the terms 'transfeminine' and 'gender diverse' as terms that are inclusive of gender variant people who were all assigned male sex at birth and identify as women in some or all aspects of their lives. The persons in our study also showed gender identifications that were fluid and sometimes varied in different contexts and situations, therefore gender identity and sexual identity were often conflated for these individuals. Participants managed high levels of reported stigma by drawing on social support networks like families, friends and peers. Conclusion: Our study provides exploratory work on how stigma may affect HIV services uptake amongst gender diverse women and transfeminine women in South Africa. We recommend future studies to further explore the unique HIV risks of gender diverse individuals.