Next year would have marked a milestone in Suniti Solomon’s life. In 1986, she, along with a few researchers, detected the first strains of HIV in the country. The nation was incredulous, and yet batting for her, she had solid science, a grim determination to tell the truth, and an earnestness she retained till the very end. Suniti Solomon, however, did not live to see the third decade after her startling discovery. On Tuesday morning, she died in Chennai, after a brief illness. She was 75, and is survived by her son, Sunil Suhas Solomon.
Dr. Solomon was a microbiologist at the Government General Hospital when blood samples she had collected from six people turned back positive for HIV. Since then, her life turned into one long battle against the virus, and the misconceptions swarming it. “I’m a fighter,” she said at a 2014 meeting, gracefully receiving yet another award for her contributions. And her formidable opponent was stigma. “It is the stigma that is killing people,” as she was fond of saying.
She made it her business then, not only to bust the stigma, but also to take care of people no one would, then – people living with HIV/AIDS. The next 29 years were marked with innovations that have guided path-breaking research, treatment and even funding methodologies in the sector, and the overwhelming desire to get people thinking of HIV. In 1993, she set up YRG Care, a non governmental organisation to carry forward this agenda, and it soon became the starting point for several original ideas in the field.
Born and brought up in Chennai, Dr. Suniti was a member of the well-known Gaitonde business family. She trained in Pathology in the United States and United Kingdom. “She could have, at any time, been working in any of the top institutions in the world, but she chose to continue her work in this city,” recollects A.K. Ganesh, project manager YRG Care Foundation. “Dr. Suniti was an absolutely great teacher, mentor and fantastic leader. Her belief in science was steadfast, and she had an extraordinary interest in the welfare of her patients and people she knew,” N. Kumarasamy, Chief Medical Officer, YRG Care, recollects. For all of them, her death has created a vacuum.
“The news of her death is a shock,” says P. Kugananthan, former Corporation Medical Officer, who worked with her. “This will be one vacuum that will be hard to fill.”