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Medical Journal: Lack of Health Care Has ‘Alarming Consequences’ for Transgender People

A landmark series of papers called for better health care for transgender people worldwide.

LAHORE, PUNJAB, PAKISTAN - 2014/11/20: Pakistani Eunuchs hold candligthing ceremony in memory of  transphobia vicitims on the eve of  International Transgender Day of Remembrance in Lahore. The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender  graphic designer, columnist, and activist. In 2010, it was already observed in over 185 cities throughout more than 20 countries in the world. (Photo by Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LAHORE, PUNJAB, PAKISTAN - 2014/11/20: Pakistani Eunuchs hold candligthing ceremony in memory of transphobia vicitims on the eve of International Transgender Day of Remembrance in Lahore. The Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist. In 2010, it was already observed in over 185 cities throughout more than 20 countries in the world. (Photo by Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Doctors, researchers, and public servants routinely fail to meet the health needs of the world’s approximately 25 million transgender people, a new series of papers published Friday by an influential medical journal has concluded.

The result, according to the Lancet, is that transgender people often do not get the care they need, whether because of ignorance by healthcare providers or outright discrimination. Moreover, many countries do not recognize the rights or existence of transgender individuals — which only exacerbates the problem.

“The message for healthcare providers is that transgender people, wherever they live, and whatever the area of their lives, have the same rights as their compatriots to the highest attained standard of health,” one of the lead authors, Sam Winter, told the Thompson Reuters Foundation.

The series also took global organizations to task, citing the recent exclusion of LGBT groups from the United Nations global AIDS summit as one example, as well as the World Health Organization’s classification of transgender people as having a mental disorder.

Last month, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power complained about the LGBT exclusion from the high-level summit. “Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” Power wrote to U.N. General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft.

Legal, social, and workplace discrimination often leaves little choice for transgender people to avoid risky behavior, including unsafe sex, substance abuse, or black market hormone treatment and surgery.

Additionally, the lack of research into their health needs further puts them at risk. One paper in the Lancet series found that while many studies have documented the high prevalence of depression in the transgender community — up to 64 percent — hardly any studies had looked at the factors that lead to that risk.

“Understanding risk factors for mental health problems is crucial to decreasing global mental health morbidity,” wrote the paper’s authors, “yet remarkably few studies have contributed to such an understanding in transgender people.”  

The authors also concluded that the effects of post traumatic stress disorder had not been sufficiently studied in the transgender community, where many fall victim to violence and hate crimes.

Additionally, the study called for physicians to receive training in transgender people’s health needs.

Photo credit: Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert

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