Suniti Solomon (1938 or 1939 – 28 July 2015) was an Indian physician and microbiologist who pioneered AIDS research and prevention in India after having diagnosed the first Indian AIDS cases among the Chennai sex workers in 1986 along with her student Sellappan Nirmala .[1][2] She founded the Y R Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education in Chennai. The Indian government conferred the National Women Bio-scientist Award on her.[3][4][5][6][7] On 25 January 2017, the Government of India awarded her the Padma Shri for medicine [8] for her contributions towards diagnosis and treatment of HIV.[9]

Early life and education

Suniti Solomon (née Gaitonde), was born in a Maharashtrian Hindu family of the leather traders in Chennai. She was the seventh child in a family of eight and was the only daughter.[10][11][12] In a 2009 interview she said she became interested in medicine from the yearly health officer visits to their home for vaccinations.[10]

She studied medicine at Madras Medical College and then was trained in pathology in the UK, the U.S. and Australia until 1973 when she and her husband, Victor Solomon, returned to Chennai, because "she felt her services were more needed in India." She did her doctorate in microbiology[11] and joined the faculty of the Institute of Microbiology in Madras Medical College afterwards.[13]


In her earlier career life abroad, Solomon had worked as a junior physician at King's College Hospital, London.[13] After returning to India, Solomon worked as a microbiologist at Madras Medical College and rose to the rank of professor.[3] She followed the literature about the clinical descriptions of AIDS in 1981, discovery of HIV in 1983 and by 1986 decided to test 100 female sex workers, as India had no openly gay community. Six of the one hundred blood samples turned out to be HIV positive. Solomon later sent the samples to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for a retest which confirmed the result.[14][13] This discovery became the first HIV documentation in India.[11][15] Since then, Solomon decided to dedicate her life working on HIV/AIDS research, treatment, and awareness. She has described how people shunned HIV infected persons; even her husband did not want her "to work with HIV-positive patients," most of whom at that time were homosexuals, those who self-injected drugs and sex workers. Solomon replied by "you have to listen to their stories and you wouldn’t say the same thing."[10] Solomon was one of the first people who spoke openly about HIV and the stigma along it, she once stated "what is killing people with AIDS more is the stigma and discrimination."[3]

From 1988 to 1993, Solomon set up the first AIDS Resource Group in India founded at the MMC and ran a variety of AIDS research and social services. The group was also the first comprehensive HIV/AIDS facility in India before any private and public sectors.[15] In 1993, Solomon established the 'Y R Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education' (YRG CARE) after the name of her father.[13] It was one of India's first places for voluntary HIV counselling and testing. As of 2015, 100 outpatients were seen there daily and 15 000 patients were on regular follow-up. The centre and her work there have been described as "significant factors in slowing the [HIV] epidemic". She also provide education to other doctors and students about HIV and its treatment.[11] She obtained the name of "the AIDS doctor of Chennai"[13] and served as the President of the AIDS Society of India.[4]

Solomon also collaborated in international research studies, including a multi-country HIV/STD Prevention Trial at the US National Institute of Mental Health, the HIV Prevention Trials Network run by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an NIH study of the HIV stigma in health care settings in Southern India, and a Phase III study of 6% CS GEL, a candidate microbicide of CONRAD (organization).[4][14]

Personal life

Solomon met her husband, Victor Solomon, a cardiac surgeon, when studying medicine at Madras College. She followed his travels to the UK, US and Australia. He died in 2006. Their son Sunil Solomon is an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 2 months before her death on July 28, 2015, in her home in Chennai, at the age of 76.[11]


Solomon received the following awards:[5]



  1. ^ Manu Balachandran (29 July 2015). "The doctor who detected India's first HIV case has died". QUARTZ INDIA.
  2. ^ Solomon, S.; Solomon, S. S.; Ganesh, A. K. (2006). "AIDS in India". Postgraduate Medical Journal. NCBI. 82 (971): 545–547. doi:10.1136/pgmj.2006.044966. PMC 2585722. PMID 16954447.
  3. ^ a b c "Suniti Solomon, who woke India up to HIV threat, dies at 76". The Times of India. 29 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Janardhanan, Arun (29 July 2015). "Dr Suniti Solomon, who pioneered HIV research and treatment in India, passes away". Indian Express. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Dr Suniti Solomon, part of team who detected HIV, passes away". Rediff. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Suniti Solomon, Doctor Who Awakened India To HIV, Passes Away". Huffington Post. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  7. ^ "The woman who discovered India's first HIV cases". Geeta Pandey. BBC. 30 August 2016. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  8. ^ "In 2017, Padma Awards to honour unsung heroes of healthcare". Medical Dialogues. 27 January 2017.
  9. ^ "PadmaAwards-2017" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 January 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Anupama Chandrasekaran (14 August 2009). "Freedom to live with HIV — Suniti Solomon". Live mint. HT Media Ltd. Retrieved 8 November 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d e Jeremy Laurance (7 November 2015). "Suniti Solomon". The Lancet. 386 (10006): 1818. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00772-2. PMID 26843302.
  12. ^ "About Us/Our Founder". YRG CARE. Retrieved 16 July 2016.
  13. ^ a b c d e Gaitonde, Vishwas. "Remembering Dr. Solomon". The Hindu. Retrieved 16 July 2016.
  14. ^ a b c d Medicine, Institute of; Health, Board on Global (20 December 2006). Preventing HIV Infection among Injecting Drug Users in High Risk Countries. National Academies Press. ISBN 9780309102803. Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  15. ^ a b "About Us/The History". YRG CARE. Y.R. Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education. Retrieved 16 July 2016.
  16. ^ "List of Fellows - NAMS" (PDF). National Academy of Medical Sciences. 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  17. ^ "In 2017, Padma Awards to honour unsung heroes of healthcare". Medical Dialogues. 27 January 2017.