As we stood in the open air atrium of the Y.R.G Center for AIDS Research and Education (CARE), the beautiful aroma of incense and jasmine flowers from Dr. Suniti Solomon’s shrine drifted through the air. Although the founder of YRG CARE passed away two years ago, her spirit was felt throughout the space. As we were whisked through the atrium to the state of the art research laboratories and clinic spaces, we learned about how she diagnosed the first case of HIV in India and how she was the catalyst for education, prevention, testing, and treatment of HIV in this country, and how that has blossomed into the many research studies and initiatives YRG CARE is involved in today.
I was astounded by how much YRG CARE has accomplished and the number of the studies they’re involved in. It is also refreshing to see an organization in India focus on stigmatized populations throughout the country, such as men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, and people who inject drugs (PWID).
Growing up in a Punjabi household, I sadly know the stigma all too well. Even though I have family members living in India who struggle with IV drug use, there is a culture of keeping things hush-hush. I also found it disheartening that my own family members didn’t have the availability of resources that I could provide for my patients at BMC. However, YRG CARE and other organizations across India have been working to change this, especially with efforts to screen and treat for hepatitis C infections (I’ll talk more about HCV testing and treatment in a future blog posting). Although there is still much work to be done both here in India and in the US, it’s inspiring to see the changes that are taking place.