Mapping Pathways is a multi-national project to develop and nurture a research-driven, community-led global understanding of the emerging evidence base around the adoption of antiretroviral-based prevention strategies to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The evidence base is more than results from clinical trials - it must include stakeholder and community perspectives as well.

31 August 2011

A Modern Day HIV Love Story

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Dr. Suniti Solomon, a veteran in the HIV/AIDS prevention field and one of the doctors credited with diagnosing the first case of HIV infection in India in 1986, recently took a special interest in an unconventional Indian wedding. The bride was from Delhi and the groom from the South – but it was not the unconventionality of this North/South love story (in an otherwise highly caste-conscious Indian society) that made this wedding special to Dr. Solomon. Unknown to most of the friends and family celebrating this happy occasion, the bride and the groom were both patients of Dr. Solomon’s – both of them HIV positive and under treatment[1] at her clinic, Y.R. Gaitonde Center for AIDS Research and Education (YRG CARE), in Chennai. In fact, Dr. Solomon introduced them earlier this year, and they fell in love almost instantly. Their love story is going to be featured in a documentary film called Match+: A Story About Love In The Time Of HIV. Learn more about the film here (scroll down and click on the tab titled “Match +”).

We caught up with Dr. Solomon (who is also known as “the HIV matchmaker” in some circles) and Ann Kim, one of the filmmakers behind the film, to learn more about this story, their views on HIV, and their thoughts on love.

MP: Please introduce yourselves and what you do.

Dr Solomon: I’m Dr. Suniti Solomon and I’m the director of Y.R. Gaitonde Center for AIDS Research and Education. I’ve been working with HIV right from the beginning for the last 25 years, doing prevention, care, and research work.

Ann: I’m a producer/journalist, focused mainly on global health as well as US health issues. My film partner Priya Giri Desai and I have been working on a film about Dr. Solomon for the last three years. 

MP: Dr. Solomon, you have been referred to as an HIV matchmaker by some. How did that come about?

Dr Solomon: The matchmaking started because people living with HIV don’t disclose their status to their parents. In India, when the boy is 30 or the girl is 24-25, the parents want them to get married. They start looking for partners and the person who is infected is unable to talk freely to them and say, “Look, I have HIV and I can’t get married.” That’s when they come to me and ask, “My parents are planning to get me married to an HIV-negative person – now what do I do?” So we say okay, we’ll look for someone for you. It so happened that the first young man who came to us was an engineer. We arranged a match for him with a girl in Maharashtra, and we told him to tell his parents that he fell in love with her when he went for a meeting in Bombay (which he used to do often for work). That’s how they got married, and now their families are happy. Both the boy and girl have kept their HIV-positive status only between themselves, it has not been disclosed to anyone else besides us.


MP: And how long have you been doing this?

Dr Solomon: The first match, they now have a child who is around 10, so we started about 10 years ago. And now we get a lot of inquiries. We get emails, we get people from Canada and Australia writing to us saying they want to get married.

MP: If you were to describe this documentary, what would you say is its message or what it’s about?

Dr Solomon: I would say the message is that HIV has become a chronic disease today, almost like diabetes or hypertension. People think if you’re HIV-positive, that’s it – now you sit in the corner of the room. But that’s not the case anymore. With the correct treatment, you can still continue to work, to live, to get married, to have children – if you want to. And in India, culturally, it is so important to get married and have children.

Ann: I would say it’s also about Dr. Solomon. She’s a pioneer in her field, and she’s a remarkable person who has lived an unconventional life. I’ve learnt a lot by watching her work, especially in the face of stigma not only to her patients, but also potentially to herself. This documentary also explores what Dr. Solomon touched upon – in India, where the expectation is that you get married, how do you handle that when you’re living with HIV? How do you satisfy these cultural expectations as well as your own hopes of finding a partner and companionship if you have this issue that you can’t even talk about? For many HIV-positive people here, if somebody finds out about their status, they could lose their jobs, they could get kicked out of their communities, their homes, their families… This was something that, for both myself and my film partner Priya, was really compelling to explore and bring to light.


MP: You both alluded to the documentary also being a modern love story.

Ann: Yeah, I think so…

Dr Solomon: Yes… but in reverse. Although marriages are made in heaven, we make them happen at our center – sometimes, we arrange the marriage first and then the couple falls in love. We have a boy and girl who were recently married at the center. They are so in love – she can’t wait for her husband to come back from work each evening. During their courtship, they would both sms each other every night, reminding the other to take their respective pills. And now that they are married, they take their pills together in the evening.[2]

MP: And how did they get infected?

Dr. Solomon: The boy had a blood transfusion. And the girl got it from her first husband, which was an arranged marriage.

MP: That’s exactly what you try to prevent by doing this matchmaking.

Dr. Solomon: Exactly.

MP: Ann, you and Priya have been on this journey for the past three years, traveling between continents, relying on grants as well as your own personal funds… Why does this documentary matter to you so much?

Ann: Well…

Dr Solomon: Because she’s not married (whispers). That’s why she’s so interested. Once you get married, you settle down in life, you don’t think of all this.

Ann: (Laughing) Well… At the end of the day it’s really about getting these unknown stories told. While MATCH+ is about the lives of a handful of HIV-positive individuals searching for companionship in a particular social context, the themes are universal. And, ultimately, very human. I think there is much to be learned from them. Besides, who doesn’t like a love story?

Match+: A Story About Love In The Time Of HIV is currently in final production. In order to protect the identity and wishes of the people participating in the documentary, names have been changed and faces obscured at the request of participants. You can read more about the film here (scroll to the bottom and click on the tab titled “Match+”).

[1] Dr. Solomon’s HIV+ patients are given an antiretroviral (ARV) regime as a way of managing their disease, an approach that she and other HIV/AIDS specialists have been following and advocating for many years. The approach, which is known as TLC+, stands for Testing, Linkage to Care, plus Treatment. The strategy includes voluntary counseling and HIV testing with a direct link to care and treatment (taking antiretroviral medications) for those who test HIV+.

[2] Dr. Solomon is referring to the antiretroviral (ARV) regime her clinic prescribes to HIV+ patients as a way of managing their disease.

[Content that is linked from other sources is for informational purposes and should not construe a Mapping Pathways position.]

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