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HIV Health Community Reels from Losses in Malaysia Airlines Tragedy

A top antiviral-therapy researcher, Joep Lange, was among the more than 100 researchers and advocates killed en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Australia
malaysian plane crash



Credit: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

A leading HIV researcher and at least five other delegates to a major AIDS conference are reported to be among the 298 people who died on board the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which crashed yesterday.

The Boeing 777 airliner was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine, killing all of those on board.

The 20th International AIDS Conference is being held from July 20 to 25 in Melbourne, Australia. Exactly how many delegates were on board flight MH17 has yet to be confirmed although the tally is expected to climb. Those delegates already reported to have died include:

  • Joep Lange, professor of medicine at the Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, and senior scientific adviser to the International Antiviral Therapy Evaluation Center in Amsterdam. He was also co-director of the HIV Netherlands Australia Thailand Research Collaboration and a former president of the International AIDS Society. (See 'Scientist killed on MH17 brought HIV therapy to the poor').
  • Jacqueline van Tongeren, ArtAids board member, partner of Joep Lange. 
  • Glenn Thomas, media relations coordinator at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Lucie van Mens, director of programme development and support for the Female Health Company.
  • Martine de Schutter, Aids Fonds.
  • Pim de Kuijer, writer, political activist, AIDS campaigner, parliamentary lobbyist for STOP AIDS NOW!

David Cooper, an HIV researcher and director of the University of New South Wales' Kirby Institute in Sydney, Australia, is due to present  work on how bone-marrow transplants act as HIV suppressants at the conference. A friend of Lange, he told Nature's news team:

“He was a very close colleague and friend of mine, I’ve known him for 30 years, we worked together, we set up programmes together in Thailand, he’s a huge, huge loss. I think that they’re thinking about how they should honour him during the conference. But I don’t know for sure yet.”

Virologist Charles Boucher of Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands, is already in Melbourne ahead of the conference. "It’s totally depressing, everybody is depressed. You can imagine, this is horrible. It’s quite emotional," he says.

Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust in London, said in a statement:

"I am deeply saddened that Joep Lange, his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren, and other colleagues from the World Health Organization and the HIV research community are reported to be among those killed in the MH17 disaster. Joep was a great clinical scientist, and a great friend of the Wellcome Trust and has long been a valued adviser. He was also a personal friend. He is a great loss to global health research. The thoughts and sympathies of all of us at the trust are with his family and other families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy."

In a statement, the International AIDS Society, which is organizing the conference, said that it was "continuing to work with the authorities to clarify how the tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 impacts our conference delegates, our conference partners, and our community as a whole". The society also said that the conference would proceed: "In recognition of our colleagues' dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost."

Malaysia Airlines reported that it would release a full passenger list after next-of-kin have been informed. The company says that 189 of the passengers were from the Netherlands, 44 from Malaysia, 27 from Australia, 12 from Indonesia, 9 from the United Kingdom, 4 from Belgium, 4 from Germany, 3 from the Philippines, 1 from Canada, and 1 from New Zealand. The origin of 4 passengers is still being verified.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on July 18, 2014.

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