Efficacy of an Empowerment-Based, Group-Delivered HIV Prevention Intervention for Young Transgender Women: The Project LifeSkills Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Pediatr. 2018 Oct 1;172(10):916-923. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1799.


Importance: The incidence of HIV infection among transgender women in the United States is extremely high, with young transgender women (YTW) at highest risk; condomless sex is the primary risk behavior for transmission. However, there are no published randomized clinical trials to date examining interventions to reduce sexual risk for HIV acquisition and transmission within this group.

Objective: To determine the efficacy of a culturally specific, empowerment-based, and group-delivered behavioral prevention intervention to reduce sexual risk for HIV acquisition and transmission in sexually active YTW aged 16 to 29 years.

Design, setting, and participants: Randomized clinical efficacy trial of Project LifeSkills, a group-delivered, behavioral HIV prevention intervention, vs standard of care conducted among 190 sexually active YTW between March 26, 2012, and August 15, 2016, at community-based locations in Boston, Massachusetts, and Chicago, Illinois, to reduce sexual risk for HIV acquisition or transmission. Data analysis was by a modified intention-to-treat approach.

Interventions: Participants were randomized (approximately 2:2:1) to the LifeSkills intervention (n = 116), standard of care only (n = 74), or a diet and nutrition time- and attention-matched control (attention control) arm (n = 43). The attention control arm was dropped during active enrollment per the Data Safety and Monitoring Board's recommendation. The LifeSkills intervention was delivered in six 2-hour sessions spanning a 3-week period.

Main outcomes and measures: Primary outcome was change in the number of self-reported condomless anal or vaginal sex acts in the 4 months before the baseline assessment and that reported at the 4-, 8-, and 12-month visits.

Results: Of the 190 study participants, the mean (SD) age was 23.4 (3.4) years (range, 16-29 years); 47 (24.7%) were white, 83 (43.7%) were black or African American, 25 (13.2%) were Hispanic or Latina, and 35 (18.4%) were another race/ethnicity. From baseline to 4 months, the LifeSkills group had a 30.8% greater mean (SE) reduction in condomless sex acts (2.26 [0.40] at baseline vs 1.22 [0.22] at 4 months) compared with the standard of care group (2.69 [0.59] at baseline vs 2.10 [0.47] at 4 months) (risk ratio [RR], 0.69; 95% CI, 0.60-0.80; P < .001). Similarly, the LifeSkills group had a 39.8% greater mean (SE) reduction in condomless sex acts at the 12-month follow-up visit compared with the standard of care group (0.71 [0.13] vs 1.40 [0.32]; RR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.50-0.72; P < .001).

Conclusions and relevance: Among YTW at sexual risk of HIV acquisition or transmission, the LifeSkills intervention resulted in a 39.8% greater mean reduction in condomless sex acts during the 12-month follow-up in comparison to the standard of care group. This trial is the first to date to demonstrate evidence of efficacy for a behavioral intervention to reduce sexual risk in YTW.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01575938.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • HIV*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Psychotherapy, Group / methods*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Transgender Persons*
  • Transsexualism / epidemiology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01575938