TN has always been at the forefront of the HIV epidemic
Since documenting the first evidence of HIV infection in India in the 1980s, Dr. Suniti Solomon was a tireless pioneer in the good fight until her death in 2015. Her son, Dr. Sunil Suhas Solomon, who assumed the mantle, is known for its pioneer. work in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the country. He now runs the YR Gaitonde Center for AIDS Research and Education in Chennai, established by Suniti in 1993. While his mother's struggles were very challenging in comparison, we still have a long way to go, Sunil told us, when We found it. on World AIDS Day.
How has the stigma around HIV and AIDS changed over the years?
There is still a lot of stigma and discrimination, but it has improved a lot. I still remember that in the 90s, when my mother started with YRG Care, nobody wanted to touch people with HIV. But today, we have several private hospitals that are part of our network. Even government hospitals are happy to treat people with HIV. But we still need that generational change. People are still old fashioned. It is rooted in their minds that if you are HIV positive, you are a sex worker, a drug dealer or you have had sex with a sex worker or you are homosexual.
That is not something that changes overnight. This is true even if we look at the United States, which we believe is very progressive. In Baltimore, especially among the black community, they never went out and said they were gay and living with HIV. It is the same thing that is happening in India. We still have a long way to go. But we have taken many correct steps. The HIV/AIDS Law introduced in 2017 helps eliminate a lot of discrimination. With the repeal of Section 377, we are moving in the right direction. Laws may change, but acceptance of the law and changing people will take time.
Celebrities like Gareth Thomas and Jonathan Van Ness recently revealed their serological status. Do you think this helps the community?
Absolutely. In the USA In the US, many popular people living with HIV have come out like Magic Johnson. But there is still that fear of acceptance when they leave.
Upon arriving in Tamil Nadu, reports suggest that HIV prevalence rates have declined in recent years in Chennai. What do you think of these numbers?
Tamil Nadu (TN) has always been at the forefront of the HIV epidemic from the beginning. We have had large defense groups in TN from the beginning. TN is one of the most progressive states compared to many other states. The incidence of HIV has definitely decreased. But with the penetration of many dating applications, there are many online connections. Those people don't really go to ICTC centers, where the data goes to surveillance. So, we have no idea of the state of that population. I don't know if that's a big problem in TN.
Could you give more details about the risk groups?
Virtual spaces are not really reached by these programs. That is the population of which we must be very careful. We need to start looking for innovative ways to reach this population. There are many drugs available and many university students are using it. This is something we have seen in the United States. We saw a peak and what happened when it fell was that people stopped being afraid of HIV. It has become easy to manage HIV, so people think why I should stop having fun. Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise. Most of the programs are aimed at groups below the poverty line, where they have done very good jobs.
Pakistan recently witnessed a massive outbreak of HIV in Ratodero due to non-sterile medical equipment. What do such outbreaks indicate?
Small outbreaks also occur here, such as the outbreak in UP, a couple of years ago, which was related to unsafe medical injections. On a large scale, I would not worry about unsafe medical injections in India. That would probably be more relevant for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. But in terms of HIV, I don't think there is enough occurrence for HIV transmission.
What are some of the most important misconceptions about HIV and AIDS?
Today, I think people mix HIV and AIDS. People do not realize that one is the virus and the other is the disease that occurs in a terminal stage. You get HIV and your immunity has to go down, where you start getting opportunistic infections, which is when you can get AIDS. They are two different things. People with HIV can live for a long time and are not life-threatening.
The other misconception is that people with HIV cannot have HIV negative children. They can definitely get married. A positive man can marry a negative woman and have a negative child. The treatment has advanced where we can guarantee practically 99.99 percent that the child can be negative. A positive woman can have negative children.
There are new medications you can take to avoid getting HIV. It has been promoted among gay men in the US. UU. And other parts of the world in vulnerable populations. Most people do not know this. Another misconception is that people with HIV will die. I think everyone will die and people with HIV will live as long as people without HIV. The survival rate is practically the same these days with the newest medications on the market.
Tell us about the pairing service your mother started a couple of years ago for people living with HIV ...
We have matched around 35 couples so far. We only like one or two a year. People have their own priorities and it is very difficult (laughs). Pairing with HIV positive people is the same as pairing with HIV positive people. They all have very
high demands when it comes to people who want to get