The woman who discovered India's first HIV cases
Thirty years ago, India discovered the dreaded HIV virus had reached its shores when blood samples from six sex workers tested positive. It was largely due to the efforts of one young scientist - but until now, her pioneering work has been all but forgotten.

When it was first suggested she screen people for HIV/Aids, Sellappan Nirmala balked.

It was at the end of 1985 and the 32-year-old microbiology student at the medical college in Chennai (Madras), was looking for a topic for her dissertation.

The idea came from her professor and mentor, Suniti Solomon. Formal tracking of Aids cases had begun in the United States in 1982 and the medical authorities in India didn't want to be caught napping if the disease reached India.

But at the time, the idea of that happening was widely considered "unthinkable", Nirmala recalls.

The press at the time wrote that HIV was a disease of the "debauched West" where "free sex and homosexuality" were prevalent. Indians, on the other hand, were portrayed as heterosexual, monogamous and God-fearing.

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