“Life Skills” May Reduce HIV Risk Behaviors in a Marginalized Population

Young transgender women are at increased risk for HIV infection due to factors related to stigma/marginalization and participation in risky sexual behaviors. To date, no HIV prevention interventions have been developed or proven successful with this population. 

To address the gap, Robert Garofalo, MD, MPH, and colleagues developed a behavioral intervention targeting the unique mechanisms of HIV risk among an ethnically diverse sample of young transgender women aged 16–24 years. The Life Skills intervention curriculum included information on sexual health, HIV 101, safer sex techniques, healthy communication, partner negotiation, and how to identify and access community services. Individual sessions provided participants with a personally tailored plan to reduce HIV risk behaviors. The overall attendance and retention rates demonstrate that small group-based HIV prevention programs for young transgender women are both feasible and acceptable. Although conducted with a small sample outcome measures suggest that participation in the intervention may reduce HIV-related risk behaviors. For example, participants significantly decreased both the frequency of unprotected sexual acts with casual partners and the number of main sexual partners following participation in the Life Skills intervention. 

“This pilot project was unique in targeting the HIV risk behaviors of adolescent and young adult transgender women, a very at-risk group and one that has been woefully absent from the scientific literature. Our success has resulted in funding by the National Institute of Mental Health for a five year study” says Dr. Garofalo. “In conjunction with the Fenway Institute and Harvard University, we will now conduct the first ever efficacy trial of a HIV prevention intervention for young transgender women in the U.S.” Dr. Garofalo thanked the transgender community of Chicago for their participation in the project, saying “we could never have gotten to this point without you, and our hope is that the Life Skills curriculum you helped us develop proves successful in helping young transgender women lead happy and healthy lives.” 

Robert Garofalo, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; attending physician in the Division of Academic General Pediatrics and Primary Care and director of Adolescent HIV Services; and a member of the Clinical and Translational Research Program and director of the Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention of Children’s Memorial Research Center. Co-authors on the study were Amy K. Johnson, Lisa M. Kuhns, Christopher Cotten, Heather Joseph, and Andrew Margolis. This research was support by CDC grant UR6 PS000396 to Garofalo and Howard Brown Health Center. 

For more information, contact Peggy Murphy at 773.755.6341 or pemurphy@luriechildrens.org.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital, is a 23-story, state-of-the-art hospital located in downtown Chicago on the campus of its academic partner, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S.News & World Report 2013-14 Honor Roll rankings. Lurie Children’s provides pediatric care in a setting that offers the latest benefits and innovations in medical technology, research and family-friendly design. The hospital relies on philanthropic support to care for more than 149,000 children each year.

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