Over 100 of the 298 people killed on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine were AIDS researchers, health workers and activists headed to a major AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia.
The 20th International AIDS Conference is due to commence on Sunday. Attendees at a pre-conference in Sydney were told the sad fate of their colleagues Friday morning. It is estimated 108 conference attendees and their family members perished on the plane that is believed to have been shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Among the dead is Dutch researcher and former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange.
Jonathan Quick, who runs a nonprofit medicine supply company, was on hand for the sad announcement. He described Lange as a driving force in AIDS research.
“I remember meeting him back in the late 1990s. He was really driven at a time when there was not much going on in the way of treatment,” Quick told The Australian.
Researcher Clive Aspin said news of the crash called to mind the death of another research scientist, Jonathan Mann, who also died in a plane crash 16 years earlier.
“Yet again, we're devastated by a similar tragedy,” Aspin told The Sydney Morning Herald. “It's going to be a very sombre mood at the conference in Melbourne, especially for those of us who have been coming to these conferences for many years.”
News that the crash took so many of their colleagues hit those at the pre-conference particularly hard.
“The struggle with the epidemic is bigger than any one individual but the collective loss of so many important people is one that is emotionally devastating,” said Sean Strub, an activist and journalist from New York.
Jennifer Watt, who works with a pharmaceutical company in San Francisco, said the loss of Lange was a devastating blow to AIDS research.
“I have worked very closely with him in a number of clinical research projects. He’s very well known and a very passionate person. He’s the father of AIDS research in the developing world,’’ Watt said.
International Aids Society president-elect Chris Beyrer issued a statement Friday confirming the news.
“The International AIDS Society (IAS) today expresses its sincere sadness at receiving news that a number of colleagues and friends en route to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight that has crashed over Ukraine earlier today,’’ the statement read.
“At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy,” Beyrer concluded.
Photo Source: AccessHIV.org