HIV/AIDS organizations consider identifying and treating HIV in key populations such as transgender people to be essential to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to UNAIDS, the prevalence of HIV among transgender women is 49 times that of the general population.1 However, there needs to be health services for transgender people in order for them to access prevention and treatment interventions. Last November marked the one-year anniversary of Southeast Asia’s first transgender-specific sexual health clinic: the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre’s Tangerine Community Health Centre in Bangkok. Managed by trained transgender staff and gender-sensitive medical professionals, Tangerine has already served more than 400 transgender women and 100 transgender men.
A physician at Tangerine providing services to the clinic’s first client
The clinic offers gender-affirming integrated healthcare, including general health check-ups, psychosocial support and counseling, hormone administration and monitoring, vaccination for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus, testing for HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, and hepatitis B and C, Pap smears, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and other health referrals. It is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plain for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
“Providing the healthcare that transgender people need in an enabling environment is an essential aspect of recognizing and promoting the human rights of these underserved populations that regularly face stigma and discrimination,” said Rena Janamnuaysook, Transgender Program Coordinator at the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre.
Tangerine staff with Ms. Blossom, a transgender celebrity (wearing black dress)
Research conducted by Transgender Europe and the Thai Transgender Alliance in 2015 shows that 47 percent of Thai transgender people have had negative experiences with traditional health care providers related to their gender identity.2 While Thailand has a limited number of clinics for men who have sex with men (MSM), they may be unable to also address the specific health needs of transgender women. Lack of access to appropriate and respectful healthcare contributes to the health disparities faced by transgender people, which leads to their high vulnerability to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
“We are committed to making the Tangerine clinic a model for high-quality health services for transgender people,” said Dr. Nittaya Phanuphak, Chief of the Prevention Department at the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre. “We will also conduct studies to increase the evidence base for improving transgender health programs and interventions.” Their research includes a recently completed study funded by amfAR to investigate the impact of male-to-female sex reassignment surgery on future risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among transgender women.
“During our first year of operation, both health providers and people in the transgender community have expressed a huge need for more programs like it, so we are now extending similar models to community-based organizations in Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai [major urban centers in Thailand],” said Dr. Phanuphak. “We have also been thrilled to learn that the South-South learning platform initiated by the Tangerine Clinic has inspired other countries in the region, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, to establish transgender health clinics in their own settings.”
For more information about the Tangerine Clinic, go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tangerine-Community-Health-Center/1696908850533037