News & events

Press Releases

04 January 2018

First South African study to look at HIV prevalence in transgender women

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Thursday 4 January 2018 – 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), the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), will lead the first South African integrated biological and behavioral survey on HIV in transgender women.  This study will be supported by various South African and international academic and civil society partners and will commence in January 2018.

This study will be conducted in the Cape Town metropolitan area, in the Western Cape; the Johannesburg metropolitan area in Gauteng; and the Buffalo City Metro in the Eastern Cape.  These sites have been selected because of the existence of civil society organisations working with transgender women.  These include,  Social, Health, Empowerment (S.H.E.) Feminist Collective in East London, Sex Workers’ Advocacy and Education Taskforce (SWEAT), Gender Dynamix and Access Chapter 2 (AC2).  The University of California, San Francisco will provide technical assistance. 

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  (STIs).

This study will be conducted in three parts:

  • A rapid ethnography will be implemented in order to explore the specific HIV vulnerabilities of transgender women.
  • Secondly pre-surveillance formative research will be conducted in order to inform the implementation of the proposed survey.
  • Finally a behavioural survey and biomarker testing will be conducted to assess HIV risk taking behaviours and HIV prevalence among transgender women.

Reflecting upon the significance of the study, the HSRC’s CEO Professor Crain Soudien said, “For the first time South Africa will be able to document the HIV prevalence in transgender women.  The data can also be used to monitor the sequential stages of HIV medical care (i.e. 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). 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.”

Helen Savva, CDC SA’s Key Populations Lead, “We are very proud to have initiated this important study on transgender women, a population that has been mostly marginalized throughout the world and especially in Africa. The results of this survey will strengthen CDC and PEPFAR’s services for high risk women who have largely been sidelined in HIV epidemic control.”

Representing S.H.E, Leigh Ann van der Merwe said, “Through this study the transgender community in South Africa will finally have a voice – both in terms of how HIV affects us but equally about what we think can be done to help us to protect ourselves.  We see this study as contributing towards our empowerment, especially because interventions will come from our input rather than being imposed upon us.  We are very pleased that our community is being acknowledged in this way and we hope to contribute towards a deeper understanding of how this disease can be prevented.”

The study aims to:

  1. Identify the social, structural, economic and cultural factors that are related to HIV infection in transgender women
  2. Understand risk  behaviours and practices related to HIV infection and onward transmission in transgender women
  3. Determine the percentage of transgender women who are HIV positive in the three study sites
  4. Conduct a population size estimation of transgender women in the Cape Town and Johannesburg Metropolitan areas and Buffalo City Metro Municipality based on “Wisdom of the Crowds” (WoTC) methodology; unique object identifier; unique event and service data multiplier methods.

Members of the media are invited to the launch of this study as follows:

Date            Wednesday 10 January 2018
Time            10h00
Venue         1st Floor, Monogramics Building, 92 Currie Street, Quigney, East London


Manusha Pillai on 082 389 3587 or
Carrie Schneider
U.S. Mission to South Africa, Assistant Information Officer
012 431 4216 or 079 111 6723

Leigh Ann van der Merwe or Vuyo Ludidi on 0437220750 or

Interviews can be facilitated with spokespeople.

Notes to the Editor

About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organisations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

About the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

CDC increases the health security of America. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.

CDC started work in South Africa in 1989, helping partners address HIV. In 1994, CDC began to collaborate with the government to conduct epidemiology training, develop national health goals and objectives, develop national HIV clinical, ethical, and research guidelines, and support HIV and TB programs.

About S.H.E
S.H.E was born from a need to give voice and visibility to the issues affecting transgender women in South Africa. It is the only organisation working to advance the health and human of exclusively transgender women. S.H.E implements service provision, advocacy and capacity building programs at the provincial, national and regional level.

Join the conversation at:

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Manusha Pillai
Mobile:  082 389 3587