Community health student surveying needs in Pakistan's transgender community
A School of Public Health student is spending his spring semester in Pakistan to develop a training program for healthcare workers treating people in the country’s transgender community.
Muhammad Armaghan Mussadiq, a Behavioral and Community Health senior who created his own major called ‘global public health and gender equity,’ left Maryland in January for Islamabad. He will be conducting open-ended interviews with health workers and members of the transgender community to understand their needs.
Mussadiq said he has two friends living with HIV in Pakistan and when talking to them, he began to brainstorm ways to help the country’s vulnerable LGBTQ population. He says that he has witnessed firsthand the discrimination, stigma, and lack of proper health care for women and sexual minorities in Pakistan.
"It was shocking and hurtful to see how the transgender community is marginalized, stigmatized, and forced to live in isolation. On my return to the United States after my last visit, I was determined to do something for the improvement of transgender health in Pakistan," he said.
The senior grew up in Pakistan, where he received his secondary education, before immigrating to the United States. He first got involved with the African American transgender, gay and bisexual community in Washington D.C. and helped develop an open-ended questionnaire with BCH Professor Bradley O. Boekeloo, who is also advising him on his current independent study in Pakistan.
The interviews covered a range of topics including sexuality and gender, sexual health, drug use and HIV, HIV testing and prevention.
“We’ve got one of the biggest HIV epidemics among black men in the country - primarily in LGBTQ networks,” Dr. Boekeloo said. “If they have healthcare it often doesn’t understand them or sometimes mistreats them.”
Since helping to conduct the interviews and getting a better understanding of what the community needs, Mussadiq is devising a training for healthcare workers in Pakistan. He is basing the program on the local work of Dr. Boekeloo. With funding from the District of Columbia Health Department, Dr. Boekeloo and a subcontractor are working with six mental health agencies in the Washington, D.C. metro area to implement the LGBTQ cultural competency training.
Dr. Boekeloo teaches a health class in the School of Public Health that is focused on LGBTQ issues, one of the only classes of its kind at the University of Maryland. “As far as I know, nobody at the University teaches specifically about health, and particularly public health, in regards to that population,” Boekeloo said.
Mussadiq took Dr. Boekeloo’s class last Spring, and hopes to share some of what he has learned in D.C. in Pakistan.
Transgender people in Pakistan suffer from high rates of HIV relative to other Pakistanis. The population is particularly vulnerable to HIV because of health care inequalities related to social determinants of healthcare access and stigma.
Mussadiq is working with a trans-led organization in Islamabad to provide local support to carry out this research by mobilizing participants and providing organizational space.
“My end goal is to try and develop this prevention program for prevention providers, to treat transgender people with respect and dignity,” he said.