A TRIBUTE....

A TRIBUTE....

“As HIV swept across the world, in the mid-1980s, no country possessed a more menacing mix of conditions, predilections, the kind of poverty likely to hasten an AIDS epidemic than India. Many researchers predicted a crisis unlike those in any other nation”. But it never happened in part because India had Suniti (Gaitonde) Solomon, whose pioneering work in HIV startled the medical fraternity and pushed the TN Government to act 32 years ago, as DECEMBER 1ST is the WORLD AIDS DAY. After her completion of Medicine from Madras Medical college, she was trained in Pathology in the UK, USA, she and her husband Dr. Victor Solomon a cardio thoracic Surgeon, returned to India. She had always felt that her services were needed more in India, than anywhere.

On her return to India she pursued post-graduation course in Microbiology from Madras Medical College, because it included the sub-speciality of immunology, which she believed even then, that would become increasingly important in the fight against infectious diseases in the future. After her completion of MD, she joined the Institute of Microbiology in Madras Medical College as a Professor. At that time many international medical journals were writing a lot about HIV outbreaks in the world. An avid reader of these journals, she realised that there was urgent need to find out if the HIV infection was present and spreading in India. She initiated a research project at the Madras Medical College in 1986. As a part of the research project, Dr. Suniti took and looked into the blood samples of 100 sex workers sheltered at a Government Home in Mylapore in Chennai. To her astonishment she found that 6 out of the 100 tested positive for HIV, among them was a 13-year-old who was forced into the sex trade. The first samples were sent to CMC, Vellore and later to Johns Hopkins university in Baltimore, USA to be tested independently. Both the Institutes reconfirmed the findings Dr. Suniti had made India’s very first HIV diagnosis.

This information, 6 in 100 tested positive, sent shock waves through not only medical fraternity in India considering the population growth factor and when this was addressed to, at the Legislative Assembly the then Indian Government was forced to sit up and take notice. A series of research and training camps for medical and paramedical professionals on HIV infection treatment regimen for those affected was also designed. Realising that Government would be late in reacting to the peril situation on hand and realising the urgency in the situation, Dr. Suniti set up India’s first HIV voluntary counselling and testing centre at Madras Medical College. This centre later developed into a Non-Governmental Organisation named after her father, Y.R. Gaitonde centre for AIDS Research and Education. (YRG CARE).

Dr. Suniti was one of the first person to talk openly about HIV in India and the stigma which accompanied it. She considered HIV to be little dangerous than virus. She started the first HIV awareness (along with sex education) programmes in Schools and Colleges. By then she had also began publishing papers on HIV epidemiology, prevention, care, support and related gender issues. She came to be known as “the AIDS DOCTOR OF CHENNAI” and a household name in TN in HIV prevention and people from distant places would come to her for HIV testing and counselling. She later set up an office in her own house realising that they needed drugs, she also started a pharmacy. Later she also started a recuperating centre for serious patients who had been refused admission at public hospitals at the VHS campus in Taramani. She also trained and mentored like-minded junior doctors in the daily treatment and care of HIV-positive patients.

While her work was initially disapproved by those around her, over the years Dr. Suniti earned national and international recognition for her pioneering work, along with funding for her NGO. Since its establishment the YRG centre has cared for more than 20000 patients with HIV, from South India and currently treats 100 outpatients a day with 15000 patients on regular follow-up. The Non-profit organisation also educates other doctors about HIV and works to reduce the stigma about people living with HIV.

YEAR

AWARDS

2001

PIONEERING WORK ON HIV (STATE RUN MEDICAL VARSITY)

2005

LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT (TN AIDS CONTROL SOCIETY)

2006

DMS, BROWN UNIVERSITY USA

2009

NATIONAL WOMEN BIO SCIENTTIST AWARD ( INDIAN MINISTRY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY)

2010

FELLOWSHIP OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF MEDICAL SCIENCES

2012

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD (DR. MGR MEDICAL UNIVERSITY)

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SEVERAL AWARDS,  LIKE MOTHER THERESA MEMORIAL AWARD FOR EDUCATION AND HUMANITARIAN SERVICES

2017

PADMA SHRI - POSTHUMOUS

 

Close to three decades, Dr. Suniti used science to save and make lives, lost hers to liver cancer in 2015. A doctor who dared to deal with HIV, at a time when many physicians were reluctant to enter that field, she worked tirelessly for the cause not just inside labs but outside as well. On WORLD AIDS DAY, we salute this pioneering physician who didn’t just make the discovery that helped the country begin its fight against HIV/AIDS, but also dedicated her life battling the virus and the discrimination associated with it. The nation salutes you, Dr. Suniti Solomon, your services are really being missed by the medical fraternity and your patients.

-Vijayashree Ramesh, Chennai based advocate