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18 July 2014

Over 100 HIV Experts Headed for International AIDS Conference Killed on Board Malaysia Airlines Flight

Joep Lange, a prominent
HIV research and former
president of the International
AIDS societyUP
Since publication of this article, CNN mentions six HIV experts were on board flight MH17.  Our sympathy goes out to all the families who lost loved ones.  Reports mention looting of the crash site.  This is despicable and indecent and we would ask that the international community do the maximum to see that the bodies are returned and the full reasons for the crime investigated.

Minutes silence held in Melbourne for over 100 HIV experts killed on board doomed MH17 who were headed for International AIDS conference
by Sally Lee and Sarah Dean and AAP, Daily Mail, 18 July 2014

· Joep Lange, a Dutch HIV expert and former president of the International AIDS Society, was en route to AIDS2014
· Dr Lange was the father of five girls
· Other passengers on the plane include European researchers Martine de Schutter and Pim de Kuijer
· The Melbourne conference will be held from July 20 to 25
· UN AIDS chief urged tragic loss should be used to push the life-saving agenda of the conference

A minutes silence and a candlelight vigil has been held in Melbourne in honour of the world's leading experts in the battle against HIV who were killed while travelling on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 en route to an AIDS conference in the city.

The tragic loss of researchers who died should be used to push the life-saving agenda of the meeting, the UN AIDS chief Mr Michel Sidibe urged as he spoke outside Melbourne Arts Centre Hamer Hall on Friday night.

A special tribute to the former president of the International AIDS Society (IAS) and ‘giant’ of HIV research, Joep Lange, was also given by Mr Sidibe.

The UN AIDS chief shared an emotional hug with Proffessor Sharon Lewin after they both spoke of their talented friend, who was a father of four girls and a boy.

The 20th International AIDS Conference was nearly cancelled after it emerged many of the 298 who died when Flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine were delegates with their family members.

Organisers of AIDS2014 still don't know exactly how many of the 12,000 researchers coming to Melbourne for the five-day conference were on board MH17.

Media reports put the number at 108, but a spokesman for the International Aids Society said there had been no confirmation of that figure.

Mr Sidibe said the tragedy should be used to bring the dreams of the delegates into reality.

'We should use this day, which is a very difficult day for us, to transform it,' he said.

'We should use this moment of sadness as a moment for us to push our agenda; our agenda for saving lives of millions of people.'

His sentiments were echoed by International AIDS Society president Francoise Barre-Sinoussi.

'The decision to go on, we were thinking about them because we know it's really what they would have liked us to do,' Prof Barre-Sinoussi said.

She said the number of delegates on the flight remains unknown.

'We don't have the confirmation (of numbers),' she said.

'We don't know how many were on that flight.'

US-based IAS president-elect Chris Beyrer told reporters in Melbourne it was not yet known how many ‘friends and colleagues’ had been lost, but the death of Prof Lange meant ‘the HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant’.

Professor Lange was one of 154 Dutch passengers on the jet apparently shot down over eastern Ukraine early on Friday while on its way to Kuala Lumpur, where he was scheduled to change planes.

The Professor of Medicine at University of Amsterdam was travelling with his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren. He was due to speak on Sunday.

Professor Lange’s colleagues said that he was one of those who had 'changed the course of humanity'.

AIDS lobbyist Pim de Kuijer and other researchers Martine de Schutter and Lucie van Mens were on the flight, along with World Health Organisation media relations coordinator Glenn Thomas, who was British.

US doctor Seema Yasmin described Professor Lange as a ‘kind man and a true humanitarian’.

Taking to Twitter, Dr Yasmin said of her friend: ‘How do we measure how much a person has done for humanity? People like Joep change the course of humanity’.

Nobel laureate Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and president of the International AIDS Society, said if confirmed, Prof Lange's death would be ‘a terrible loss for all of us’.

He had dedicated his life to ‘the benefit of mankind’, he said.

Close friend and Director of UNSW's Kirby Institute, Professor David Cooper said Prof Lange had been an integral part of the HIV response.

‘He was one of the first global advocates for treatment in low and middle income countries.’

Prof Cooper said his family had spent several holidays in Europe and Australia with Prof Lange, who had separated from his wife and found ‘true happiness with Jacqueline’.

The AIDS conference must go ahead because that's what Prof Lange would have wanted, he said.

‘After this tragedy, it should be a wake up call for them (donors) to get back in there and increase their pledges, to finally end the tragedy of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.’

University of Melbourne's Professor Rob Moodie, a chair and speaker at the AIDS 2014 conference, said the loss of Prof Lange was a major blow to the HIV research community.

'To lose the previous head of the IAS is a huge tragedy and I think the conference will be dedicated to him, and the WHO and GNP+ (Global Network of People living with HIV) people who have perished.’

Prof Lange was the founder and current chairman of PharmAccess Foundation, an Amsterdam-based non-profit organisation designed to improve access to HIV/AIDS therapy in developing countries.

He was also a founding editor of the academic journal, Antiviral Therapy.

Yvette Fleming, manager of Stop Aids Now, tweeted there were other colleagues on board the flight with Dr Lange'.

'In shock! Lucie van Mens, Martine de Schutter, Pim de Kuijer, Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren never arrived in Melbourne!' she wrote.

Delegates held a candle-lit vigil on Melbourne's Yarra Bridge on Friday evening.

HIV worker Andrew Lesa, a delegate from New Zealand, said many of those who died were ‘giants in the industry’.

‘Their loss will be a big loss to the movement,’ Mr Lesa told AAP.

He said continuing with the conference was the best way to honour those who died.

‘I don't think they would want it to be cancelled.’

The conference is the major scientific event for HIV, and speakers include former US president Bill Clinton and Sir Bob Geldof via video link, and UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe.

The City of Melbourne cancelled a fireworks display that was to mark the opening of the conference.


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