American Cohort to Study HIV Acquisition Among Transgender Women in High-Risk Areas (The LITE Study): Protocol for a Multisite Prospective Cohort Study in the Eastern and Southern United States

JMIR Res Protoc. 2019 Oct 3;8(10):e14704. doi: 10.2196/14704.


Background: In the United States, transgender women (TW) are disproportionately burdened by HIV infection. Cohort studies are needed to evaluate factors driving HIV acquisition among TW over time. These will require implementation strategies that are acceptable to the TW community and feasible to implement.

Objective: This study aims to investigate the rate and correlates of HIV acquisition and other health outcomes among TW in eastern and southern United States.

Methods: LITE is a multisite prospective cohort in 6 eastern and southern US cities, which will be followed across 24 months of technology-enhanced biobehavioral follow-up. Adult TW, regardless of HIV status, are recruited via convenience sampling (eg, peer referrals, social media, and dating apps). Participants are enrolled in a baseline study visit, complete a sociobehavioral survey, and test for HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Participants who are not living with HIV at baseline are offered enrollment into the cohort (N=1100); follow-up assessments occur quarterly.

Results: Cohort assembly was informed by synchronous Web-based focus group discussions with TW (n=41) and by continuing engagement with community advisory board members from each site. Enrollment launched in March 2018. The study is underway in the Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Miami; New York City; and Washington, DC, metro areas. As of March 2019, 795 TW completed a baseline visit (mean age 35 years). The majority of the participants are racial/ethnic minorities, with 45% of the TW identifying as black and 28% of the TW identifying as Hispanic/Latinx. More than one-quarter (28%) of the TW are living with HIV infection (laboratory-confirmed). Online recruitment methods support engagement with TW, although peer referral and referral through trusted health facilities and organizations remain most effective.

Conclusions: This study is responsive to increasing research interest in technology-enhanced methods for cohort research, particularly for hard-to-reach populations. Importantly, the diversity of literacy, technology use, and overall socioeconomic situations in this sample of TW highlights the need to leverage technology to permit a flexible, adaptive methodology that enhances engagement of potential participants living in marginalized contexts while still ensuring rigorous and sound study design.

International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/14704.

Keywords: HIV; HIV infection; United States; cohort studies; transgender persons.