Physician, researcher, leader in fight against HIV in India and worldwide for three decades is mourned globally
Dr. Suniti Solomon was a professor of microbiology in Chennai, India in 1986 when reports of the spread of HIV in the United States spurred her to determine if the virus was being transmitted in her country, she recounted to The Hindu newspaper three years ago. The positive results of tests among sex workers she sought out in a government home alerted India’s policy makers and health providers, and changed the course of her own life. In the years that followed, the physician and researcher helped launch India’s first HIV testing and counseling center, established a ground-breaking care and support center for people living with HIV, led international prevention and vaccine trials in her country, and never stopped confronting the stigma and inequities she saw associated with the virus, as she led the fight against it, at home and around the world.
In her 2012 Hindu interview, Dr. Solomon, then in her early 70s, said she had no plans to retire, and that she wanted next to support children victimized by sexual abuse.
Dr. Solomon died Tuesday at her home in Chennai. She was 76.
She had confronted the HIV epidemic from the time it was barely acknowledged anywhere, to a time when, as she told The Hindu, “I use to cry with my patients,” to a time when she could tell her patients they would lead healthy, normal lives. The center she established, YRGCARE, provided services for more than 15,000 people living with HIV and developed innovative prevention programs that included couples counseling, the first harm reduction programs for injection drug users in India, and microfinance programs for HIV-infected women. At the same time she fostered relationships with colleagues around the world that led to collaborative research towards controlling and ending the impact of HIV. Her colleagues at the HIV Medicine Association and the IDSA Center for Global Health Policy, which produces this blog remember her as an impeccably trained infectious disease researcher and a passionate community activist, who spoke for people who would otherwise be ignored.