It is 27 years today since the global community recognised World AIDS Day. Since 1988, December 1 has provided an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV and commemorate people who have died from AIDS. This day serves as a reminder for the public and policymakers that HIV has not gone away — there is still a need to sustain awareness and education, fight prejudice, and improve prevention and care efforts.
This World AIDS Day is particularly significant because in July we lost Suniti Solomon — a pioneer who documented the first cases of HIV in India and dedicated her life to a crusade against the virus. As a physician, scientist, humanitarian, mother and wife, she was passionate about combating the stigma and discrimination that keeps HIV in the shadows, allowing it to spread.
In 1993, this resolve led Solomon to establish the YR Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education (YRG CARE), which has been instrumental in shaping India’s comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS challenge. Today, YRG CARE’s successful model of prevention programmes, laboratory services and support programmes have drawn international acclaim and measurably advanced efforts against HIV/AIDS.
I had the honour of working with Solomon for several years. In close partnership with the ministries of science and technology and health and family welfare, our collaborative efforts have helped to foster a unique end-to-end approach spanning a continuum of interrelated and integrated activities focused on community research preparedness, product and technology creation, and ensuring equitable access and care to those directly impacted by HIV/AIDS.
The insights we’ve gained from this work have proven beneficial for broader efforts against other poverty-related, tropical and neglected diseases. It has also fostered the development and coordination of an India network for biomedical research as well as a powerful suite of north-south and south-south collaborations that share knowledge, and strengthen capacity and capability in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as in India.
This systematic approach has been very fruitful. It has increased harmonisation between various stakeholders in support of result-oriented national priorities and led to the development of new strategies that are mitigating the health system constraints and advancing public health goals across a variety of diseases.
I’m certain that when Solomon identified the first HIV case, she could not have imagined how that discovery would inspire a nation and benefit society in so many ways.
Today, as we remember all those who have lost their lives to HIV and take stock of the progress we’ve made, Solomon’s legacy reminds us that even with the most intractable public health challenges, focus, commitment, partnerships and a clear vision are critical ingredients to making positive lasting change. We have to keep up the commitment to ensuring that her legacy continues to benefit the world far into the future.
Rajat Goyal is country director, International Aids Vaccine Initiative. The views expressed are personal