BMC Public Health. 2023 Nov 4;23(1):2161. doi: 10.1186/s12889-023-17124-2.
BACKGROUND: Due to the restricted availability of health services in Thailand, there are still some transgender women (TGW) who do not have access to HIV counseling and testing. Telehealth, which is accessible to individuals who are reluctant to undergo face-to-face interviewing, played an especially important role during the COVID-19 epidemic. The objectives of this study are to compare the characteristics, pattern of accessing HIV testing, and the HIV-positive rates of TGW between the face-to-face and telemedicine services.
METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional study to compare the access to HIV testing and the HIV-positive rates among TGW via face-to-face service and telemedicine services and examined the influence of potential associated factors on the risk of being HIV-positive.
RESULTS: Of the 637 TGW participants, 26 (4.1%) were HIV-positive. Accessing the telemedicine service increased in the third and fourth COVID-19 waves (28.1% in the first and second vs. 71.9% in the third and fourth). There was no difference in the risk of being HIV-positive between the types of service. Having sex work experience (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 5.92; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.57-22.30) and either never having been or tested more than 1 year ago were independently significantly associated with a higher risk of being HIV-positive (aOR = 4.05; 95% CI: 1.11-14.77).
CONCLUSION: The telemedicine service became more popular among TGW during the COVID-19 pandemic and was not related to a higher risk of being HIV-positive. Moreover, it proved to be an effective alternative channel to access HIV testing, especially for intravenous drug users. Sex work experience and irregular HIV testing are key risk factors for HIV infection in TGW seeking either the telemedicine or face-to-face service.