When HIV swept across the world in the mid-1980s, many predicted an epidemic-like situation in India.

However, they were proven wrong. All thanks to Dr Suniti Solomon who documented the first cases of HIV infection in India. This is her little-known story.

Having completed several years as a medical resident in pathology at Chicago's Cook County Hospital, Dr Solomon returned to India to pursue her post-graduation at Madras Medical College.

She was very interested in microbiology because it included the sub-speciality of immunology, which she believed was important in the fight against infectious diseases in the future.

After her MD, Dr Solomon joined the Institute of Microbiology at Madras Medical College as a professor.

At that time, many medical journals were writing about HIV AIDS and she felt the urgent need to detect if there are cases in India too. In 1986, at Madras Medical College, she launched a research project to investigate the potential spread of the little-known retrovirus in India.

As a part of the research project, Dr Solomon looked into the blood samples of 100 sex workers sheltered at a government home in Mylapore in Chennai.

To her horror, she found out that six out of those hundred samples tested positive, among which was a 13-year-old girl. Considering the size of India’s population, Solomon’s findings sent shock waves in the medical fraternity.

Recognising that although the government was informed about the HIV threat, it would take time for their action plan to be implemented on the ground.

Realising the urgency to take action, she set up India’s first HIV voluntary counselling and testing centre at the Madras Medical College.

Besides being the first to talk openly about HIV in India and the stigma which accompanied it, she also served as the president of the AIDS Society of India. She also began publishing papers on HIV epidemiology, prevention, care, support and related gender issues.

Initially met with disapproval from those around her, Dr Solomon's work eventually garnered national and international recognition, leading to the securing of funding for her NGO for HIV patients.