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Johannesburg - The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) on Thursday said that it would be conducting the first South African integrated biological and behavioural survey on HIV in transgender women looking at HIV prevalence in South African transgender women.

This study will be conducted in the Cape Town, Johannesburg, and the Buffalo City Metro in the Eastern Cape beginning later this month.

The HSRC said that these sites were selected because of the existence of civil society organisations working with transgender women to provide technical assistance, including the Feminist Collective in East London, and the Sex Workers' Advocacy and Education Taskforce (SWEAT) among others.

The study was initiated and supported by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). It will be supported by various South African and international academic and civil society partners.

The study aims to survey 300 transgender women in each of the three study sites with a total sample of 900 respondents. 

In addition, respondents will also have access to HIV antibody testing to test for HIV prevalence, antiretroviral testing, HIV viral load testing to test the level of HIV in the body, screening for TB and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

HSRC's chief executive, Professor Crain Soudien, said in a statement that South Africa will be able to document the HIV prevalence in transgender women for the first time.

"The data can also be used to monitor the sequential stages of HIV medical care, that is the care and treatment cascade that transgender women experience from diagnosis to achieving the goal of viral suppression, a very low level of HIV in the body," Soudien said.

"Our fight against HIV will gain traction if we continue to investigate, and understand, the significant behaviours, attitudes and perceptions which can contribute towards infection, effective treatment and support.  It is work such as this that gives expression to the slogan, social science which matters."

The study aims to identify the social, structural, economic and cultural factors that are related to HIV infection in transgender women, understand risk behaviours and practices related to HIV infection and onward transmission in transgender women, and also determine the percentage of transgender women who are HIV positive in the three study sites.

African News Agency/ANA