Sigma Research

HIV testing, care and viral suppression among men who have sex with men and transgender individuals in Johannesburg, South Africa

PLoS ONE, 2020; 15(6): e0234384 (

Authors: Elizabeth Fearon, Siyanda Tenza, Cecilia Mokoena, Kerushini Moodley, Adrian D. Smith, Adam Bourne, Peter Weatherburn, Thesla Palanee-Phillips


Introduction: Men who have sex with men and transgender individuals (MSM/TG) carry a disproportionately high burden of HIV, including in South Africa. However, there are few empirical population-representative estimates of viral suppression and the HIV care cascade including HIV testing among this population, nor of factors associated with these outcomes.

Methods: We conducted a respondent driven sampling (RDS) survey among 301 MSM/TG in Johannesburg in 2017. Participants gave blood samples for HIV testing and viral load. Participants self-completed a survey including sociodemographics, HIV testing history, and engagement in care. We calculated RDS-II weighted estimates of the percentage of HIV-negative MSM/TG reporting HIV testing in the previous 6 months, their testing experience and preferences. Among those HIV-positive, we estimated the percentage status-aware, on ART, and virally suppressed (<50 viral copies/ml plasma). We conducted RDS-weighted robust Poisson regression to obtain weighted prevalence ratios of factors associated with 1) HIV testing among those HIV-negative; and 2) viral suppression among those HIV-positive.

Results: There were 118/300 HIV-positive MSM/TG, (37.5%). Of the HIV-negative MSM/TG, 61.5% reported that they had tested for HIV in the previous 6 months, which was associated with selling sex to men (Prevalence Ratio = 1.67, 95% CI 1.36–2.05). There were 76/118 HIV-positive MSM/TG (56.5%) who reported having previously tested positive for HIV and 39/118 (30.0%) who reported current ART. There were 58/118 HIV-positive MSM/TG with viral loads <50 copies/ml plasma (46.9%). Viral suppression was associated with older age (adjusted PR = 1.03, 95% CI 1.00–1.06 for each year), neighbourhood, and having bought sex from men (adjusted PR = 1.53, 95% CI 1.12–2.08).

Conclusions: HIV prevalence was very high. Viral suppression among those HIV-positive was similar to the general male population in South Africa, but remains far short of national and international targets. A majority of HIV-negative MSM/TG had HIV tested in the previous 6 months, though there is room for improvement.

Copyright: © 2020 Fearon et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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