With an estimated 25 million transgender people worldwide, it’s high time some research was done into the healthcare needs of this increasingly prominent social group. Accordingly, an international collection of scientists have published a three-paper series in The Lancet, revealing how stigmatization and discrimination are directly damaging transgender people's well-being, while providing a series of recommendations as to how medical professionals can correct this injustice.
The researchers lament that a lack of knowledge and understanding about the needs of those who identify as transgender has contributed to the delay in creating appropriate healthcare services. As such, they urge scientists around the world to build upon this research, using it as a springboard for more in-depth studies into the needs of specific transgender communities across the globe.
Summing up the team’s findings, co-author Sam Winter explained that “many of the health challenges faced by transgender people are exacerbated by laws and policies that deny them gender recognition. In no other community is the link between rights and health so clearly visible as in the transgender community.”
For example, the fact that many countries do not have laws specifically protecting transgender individuals from discrimination means that many are often denied access to a wide range of jobs, and are therefore at risk of becoming involved in sex work. This increases their chances of contracting infectious diseases, resulting in an HIV prevalence among transgender people worldwide that is 49 times higher than that of the rest of the population.
Meanwhile, a national study in the US revealed that, due to the high levels of physical and sexual abuse they regularly endure, 41 percent of transgender people report having attempted suicide – a figure that dwarfs the 1.6 percent of the overall US population thought to be suicidal. Similarly, in Australia, 56 percent of transgender people have been diagnosed with depression, which is four times higher than the overall national rate.
Image in text: transgender symbol. Blablo101/Shutterstock
Based on these figures, the study authors make a number of recommendations as to how the situation can be improved. For instance, they call for schools to do more to educate children about gender diversity, stating that “all teachers should be trained to work with, and teach about, transgender people and gender diversity.”
In addition, they say physicians should be trained to meet the needs of transgender people, and that specific transgender health services such as hormone therapy should be provided on the same basis as all other forms of public healthcare.
On top of this, the researchers believe the World Health Organization (WHO) should remove transgenderism from its list of diagnosable mental health disorders, reclassifying it as a sexual health issue, in order to reduce stigmatization. They also call for all countries to follow the legal precedent set by Argentina and Malta, where transgender children are allowed to decide their own gender identity when they feel ready to do so, rather than being medically classified by doctors. Transgender individuals are also guaranteed appropriate healthcare and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender expression in these countries.
Alarmingly, however, the researchers point out that eight of 49 European states currently don’t recognize the rights of transgender individuals to determine their own gender identity, while 17 actually “impose sterilization requirements on those who seek recognition.”
Commenting on this series of studies, UN Assistant Secretary General Magdy Martínez-Solimán stated that the research “contribute[s] to the growing body of evidence on addressing the needs of a group that has been excluded in health and development.”
Many countries don't recognize the right of transgender people to determine their own gender identity. AJP/Shutterstock