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World AIDS Day 2022: Suniti Solomon: Facts About The Doctor Who Discovered India’s First Case Of HIV

Every year, 1 December marks the commemoration of the united fight against HIV and AIDS. World AIDS Day has been raising awareness of the epidemic that kills at least 1 million people every year, since 1988.

The idea behind the international observance is to expunge the outmoded stigma and to show solidarity with the HIV affected. AIDS and HIV infections are one of the biggest problems of the current world, despite the establishment of enhanced and upgraded preventive measures.

World AIDS Day 2022's theme is "Equalize". WHO is calling on global leaders and citizens to recognize and address the inequalities that are holding back progress in ending AIDS; and to ensure equal access to essential HIV services, particularly for children, key populations, and their partners - including men with sex with male partners, transgenders, drug users, sex workers, and prison inmates [1].

On this World AIDS Day, let's familiarise ourselves with Dr Suniti Solomon, the doctor who discovered India's first case of HIV.

Suniti Solomon: Facts About The Doctor Who Discovered India's First Case Of HIV

Dr Suniti Solomon pioneered HIV research in India 30 years ago which startled the medical fraternity and caused the government to act on the HIV/AIDS cases in India.

When the world began to piece together pieces of a life-threatening disease in the 1980s, India refused to accept that it existed among its people. It was Dr Suniti Solomon, a lady microbiologist from Chennai, who not only discovered India's first HIV case, but also made the nation take notice of the impending epidemic through her findings [2].

At the age of 76, Dr Suniti Solomon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two months prior to her death on 28 July 2015.

Early Life

  • Suniti Solomon was born into a Maharashtrian family of leather traders in Chennai in 1938, the seventh of eight children.
  • After studying medicine at the Madras Medical College, she received training in pathology in the UK, the U.S., and Australia.
  • In 1973, Dr Suniti Solomon returned to India because she felt her services were more needed there.
  • In India, Solomon became a professor of microbiology at Madras Medical College after returning from the United States.

AIDS Awareness in India

  • In 1981, Dr Suniti researched the clinical descriptions of AIDS and the discovery of HIV in 1983. In 1986, she decided to test 100 female sex workers, as India did not have an openly gay community. Six of the hundred were HIV positive.
  • A retest of the samples was conducted by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which confirmed the results. The discovery became the first documentation of HIV in India.
  • Solomon has devoted her life to HIV/AIDS research, treatment, and awareness since then.
  • And as of today, almost 2.1 million people have been diagnosed with HIV since the first documented case in 1986.

The late Solomon was one of the first people to speak openly about HIV and the stigma associated with it, and once said, "what is killing people with AIDS more is the stigma and discrimination associated with it."

  • In 1988, Solomon founded the first AIDS Resource Group in India at MMC. This group provided a variety of AIDS research and social services and was also the first comprehensive HIV/AIDS facility in India before any private or public organization.
  • As a tribute to her father, Solomon established the Y R Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education (YRG CARE) in 1993.
  • Her name became synonymous with "the AIDS doctor of Chennai" and she served as President of the AIDS Society of India.

Accolades

  • A Padma Shri was awarded posthumously to Dr Suniti Solomon, the woman who pioneered HIV/AIDS research in India.
  • In 2005, Dr Solomon received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on HIV by Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society.
  • In 2010, received the Fellowship from the National Academy of Medical Sciences.
Story first published: Thursday, December 1, 2022, 13:34 [IST]
Read more about: suniti soloman aids day india
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