India's Crusader For People With HIV: Dr. Suniti Solomon

Dr. Suniti Solomon was a medical microbiologist. Medical microbiologists deal with the identification of microbes like bacteria, viruses, and fungi from the human body. They help clinicians in identifying the pathogenic microbes responsible for causing illnesses and also in the selection of the right drugs which can kill those microbes.

Dr. Suniti Solomon is best known for identifying the first case of HIV in India in 1986, and thereafter, for her services in the care of people affected with HIV-AIDS.

Dr. Suniti HIV AIDS
Image Credit: https://yrgcare.org

There was a point in time when after her MBBS she was staying in London with her husband, but they felt their services were needed more in India and returned for a purpose. 

Dr.Suniti had a long relationship with the Madras Medical College. She did her MBBS as well as MD in Microbiology from MMC, and then, rose to the rank of professor of Microbiology in the same institute. 

In the 1980s, when the whole world was bothered by the HIV epidemic, Dr. Suniti was also keenly interested in the HIV virus and its questionable existence in India. She guided one of her students to collect blood samples from sex workers in Chennai and identified six positive cases. Thus rang the alarm bells of HIV in India. 

She faced stiff resistance from the society about her work and findings but she was successful at holding her grounds and, thus, the first and the biggest Indian activist for the cause of prevention and treatment of HIV was born.

In 1993, she took voluntary retirement from her Alma mater and devoted her full time and efforts to establish the first dedicated, non-profit institution for HIV patients in India, that is known as the "Y.R. Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education" and in short, "YRG Care" 

With her team at YRG care, she pioneered many important interventions that were endorsed by the National AIDS Control Organization and were later absorbed into the National AIDS Control Program. 

The center developed into one-stop-shop for people living with HIV and their families providing them advanced medical as well as social services, including the famous matchmaking services for people living with HIV. Its matchmaking services were captured in the award-winning documentary "Lovesick"

The center also collaborated with the National Institutes of Health, USA for high-end research on HIV including clinical trials for new drugs. The center has over 350 publications in the field. After Dr. Sumiti's demise, her son Dr. Sunil Solomon takes her legacy forward. 

She was highly popular and almost every important scientific body present in the HIV domain wanted to work with her. She was on boards and advisory committees of multiple such national and international organizations such as
National Technical Team on Women and AIDS,
Indian Council for Medical Research,
National AIDS Research Institute,
International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

She received her fair share of scientific awards but what distinguishes her are the public service awards, the notable ones being, Padma Shri from Govt. of India, Mother Teresa Memorial Award, and Sivananda Eminent Citizen Award.

She is frequently credited for the success of the AIDS control program in India and is remembered as the torchbearer of the fight against HIV-AIDS. Obituaries in her memory makes references to her simplicity, enquiring mind, compassion, and her desire to do what was good. 

"Look, you have to listen to their stories and you wouldn’t say the same thing" (Her statement on linking immorality with HIV)

Do you feel inspired by her journey? Feel free to share your views.

References and further reading:


Views expressed are personal

Last Updated On 08/22/2019 07:30 PM


Author Profile: Dr. Naval Asija is a New Delhi based non-clinical doctor having health administration postgraduate training. Since 2018, he has been writing/blogging full time on health issues. In the past, he has worked for a decade in healthcare, in different organizations, namely Innodata India Pvt. Ltd., Win-Medicare Pvt. Ltd., National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Integrated Disease Surveillance Project and National Polio Surveillance Project.
The author can be contacted through https://www.linkedin.com/in/navalasija/
 

journey of a non clinical doctor


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