Homage to : Famous HIV researcher, Dr Suniti Solomon
Famous HIV researcher, Dr Suniti Solomon , first to bring to the world the prevalence of HIV in India in 1986 and one who successfully led research into the treatment of HIV and AIDS, passed away at her residence in Chennai on 28th July 2015. She was 76 and had been under treatment for two months for liver cancer
Dr Suniti Solomon and her colleagues documented the first evidence of the HIV infection in India in 1986 when blood samples of six commercial sex workers staying in a government home here tested positive.
She studied medicine at the Madras Medical College (this is where she met her husband—the late Dr Solomon Victor, an eminent cardiologist). With a background in pathology, she went on to do her doctorate in microbiology . In 1986, Dr Suniti Solomon was working as the professor of microbiology at the Madras Medical College when she first discovered that the six blood samples collected by one of her PhD students from female sex workers who were currently staying at the government remand home on Kutchery Road in the Mylapore area of the city contained the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
At that time, only a few places did ELISA testing and the samples were first sent to Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore and then to the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, US, for confirmation. Dr Solomon was moved so much by the stories of those six women, especially that of a 13-year-old among these. She revealed how the girl was kidnapped and forced into the sex trade and how she managed to escape and reach the remand home. This was a turning point of sorts in Solomon’s life. Since then, her life revolved around people infected with HIV. More than the virus itself, Dr Solomon was concerned about the stigma HIV positive people faced . When the epidemic was first discovered, people were afraid to go close to those with HIV. She felt the pain they went through and worked to fight not just the virus but the discrimination too. She went on to set up the first voluntary counselling and testing centre for HIV at the Madras Medical College. Dr Suniti Solomon set up Y R Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education (YRG CARE), a premier HIV/AIDS care and support centre, in Chennai.
She also published papers extensively on HIV epidemiology, prevention, care, support and related gender issues. In 2012, Dr Suniti Solomon was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for Service on HIV/AIDS by the state-run Dr MGR Medical University here. In 2009, the ministry of science and technology conferred the 'National Women Bio-scientist Award' on her. In 2001, she was given a similar award for her pioneering work on HIV/AIDS by the state run-medical varsity. A fellow of National Academy of Medical Sciences (NAMS), New Delhi, she had served on several boards, including National Technical Team on Women and AIDS, Advisory Board of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative-India, the Scientific Committee of the National AIDS Research Institute Pune and the Microbicide Committee of Indian Council of Medical Research.