Leading AIDS researcher Joep Lange of the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center and World Health Organization spokesman Glenn Thomas were among the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine on July 17. Some HIV health advocates were also reportedly among the dead who had been en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Australia. Obituaries and remembrances of these people are detailed below as a tribute to their work.
The International AIDS Society, convenors of the 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014), released a prepared statement indicating that it "is continuing to work with the authorities to clarify how the tragic loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 impacts our conference delegates, our conference partners, and our community as a whole."
Pim de Kuijer
Prominent AIDS campaigner and political activist Pim de Kuijer died in the Malaysian Airlines crash on his way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, “a journey which typified his concern for others,” remembered his colleague Nabeelah Shabbir in the Guardian.
De Kuijer, 32, came from the Netherlands and worked as a parliamentary lobbyist for Stop Aids Now!, an organization that offers support to those with HIV and AIDS and works on preventative initiatives. He was also active in the Dutch social-liberal political party D66, and last May, he monitored election proceedings in the Ukraine, according to the New York Times.
“Pim believed in understanding between countries, the rule of law and equality for all and fought for his values through his work and his political activities,” wrote Lousewies van der Laan, vice president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, on de Kuijer’s Facebook profile. “Let’s try to live up to his legacy and work even harder towards a peaceful world.”
“Anyone who ever met you, knows you left footprints in their hearts and in European politics,” wrote another colleague on Facebook, “For your memory's sake I will keep up being an optimist, a liberal and a humanist.”
Martine de Schutter
As a prominent activist in the world of HIV/AIDS and program manager for Bridging the Gap, Martine de Schutter spent her days lobbying for universal access to HIV prevention and care and improved human rights for people with the disease.
De Schutter had lived in the U.S. and several other countries throughout the world in addition to the Netherlands. She was a cultural anthropologist who specialized in gender, sexual and reproductive health, including the impact of AIDS on these issues. In previous years she had worked as the executive coordinator of AIDS Action Europe and project manager for international policy, officer women and sex work for SOA AIDS.
Bridging the Gaps, the program where she worked at her time of death, released a prepared statement regarding her death and that of her fellow colleague Pim de Kuijer (who was also on board the flight—see his profile above): “We have to share with you that we lost two of our beloved colleagues on the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17....Pim and Martine were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Our thoughts and compassion go out to their families and friends. We wish them strength in these difficult times. Our colleagues were inspiring and beautiful people, who we will forever embrace in our hearts.”
De Schutter’s main career goals were "pro-active defense of human rights and the right to good health," she wrote in her LinkedIn profile. "Throughout my (professional) life I hope to contribute to making the world a better place to live, work and love."
A talented chemist and sculler, Dutch citizen Karlin Keijzer, 25, died when Russian-backed forces shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. She had been completing her doctoral work in chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington since 2010, one of 200 such students.
Her work involved using computer simulations to model how metal molecules react as well as serving as a teacher to undergraduate students of organic chemistry, biochemistry and biological synthesis of molecules. She also had been recruited to join Indiana's women's rowing team, serving as the "stroke," the rower who sets the rowing rhythm for the entire team.
Her research passion was using chemistry to help treat or cure disease. "She worked on several research projects, all related to improving human health," said her doctoral advisor, Mu-Hyun Baik, associate professor of chemistry and informatics. "The last piece of research work she completed before heading out to catch her flight to her short summer vacation was preparing a computer simulation on bryostatin, an anticancer drug and a promising drug candidate for treating Alzheimer's disease."
Keijzer is survived by her family, colleagues, teammates and numerous friends. "She was a kind, happy young woman full of ideas about the future," Baik added in an official statement from the university. "She inspired us all with her optimism about how science will make Earth a better place."
Friends and family remember Joep Lange, a prominent Dutch researcher and professor of medicine, as an avid and tireless contributor to the field of HIV and AIDS in developing and industrialized countries. Before serving as head of the Department of Global Health at the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam and as executive scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, Lange was president of the International AIDS Society from 2002 to 2004. He commanded pivotal roles in clinical trials investigating antiretroviral therapy and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In his 30 years of AIDS-related research, Lange has published more than 350 papers in academically rigorous journals.
David Cooper, a friend and colleague of Lange, reminisced in a post on The Conversation about Lange’s pioneering work in HIV clinical research. Cooper recalls Lange’s steadfast efforts in convincing pharmaceutical companies and other organizations to support HIV-related clinical research in low- and-middle-income countries. In fall 1995, Lange, Cooper and another colleague founded the Netherlands-Australia-Thailand Research Collaboration (HIV-NAT), a government-supported clinical trial organization in Thailand. Lange also founded PharmAccess Foundation, one of the first organizations to launch programs treating people with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
Charles Boucher, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, told Nature News: “He was working on everything from the virus to the global epidemic—the care issues, the cost issues, the economics. He was quite exceptional in his reach. He cared about the science and the epidemic. I’m not sure there are many such people out there at the moment.” (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing group.)
Shaun Mellors, associate director for Africa at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, offered the following as a tribute to Dr. Lange:
“Along with everybody in the HIV community, we were shocked and saddened to hear the terrible news about friends and colleagues in the HIV sector who lost their lives in the tragic Malaysian Airlines crash yesterday. This is a profound collective loss to science, to research, to medicine and to public health and our deepest condolences are with their loved ones. They spent their lives fighting for the lives of others and we pledge to continue their important work.
I first met Joep in 1995 when I was working for the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+). I was young and an inexperienced activist who had moved from South Africa to take on this challenging new role as the Executive Director and in Joep I found a mentor and ally. He was a powerful advocate for treatment access, fought hard to ensure that people living with HIV were involved and included, was not afraid to share his views even if they were against the establishment, and he had a wicked and enjoyable sense of humour.
He taught me a lot about equity and politics, and also about being a humble and effective individual. He introduced me to the world of clinical science, where I did not have to be afraid of it, but rather question and engage with it. His commitment to the work that he was doing is something that we all need to continue—because he would expect it of us, nothing less."
Lange was traveling with his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, who was also among the 298 passengers who died in the crash. Lange is survived by four daughters and a son.
Glenn Thomas, 49, spent more than a decade as a spokesman for the World Health Organization. In that capacity he was traveling to Melbourne for this year's International AIDS conference when his Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam was shot down.
"His twin sister [Tracey] says he died doing what he loved," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in an official statement. "Glenn will be remembered for his ready laugh and his passion for public health." Hartl then led a minute of silence in tribute to his colleague. "You will be sorely missed," Hartl added on Twitter and colleagues turned his desk into a makeshift memorial, with candles, flowers and pictures of Glenn at his smiling best.
Thomas joined WHO from the BBC, first working to communicate the United Nations health organization's efforts to combat tuberculosis before moving onto the main media team at WHO Headquarters in Geneva. He is survived by his partner Claudio, his sister and many friends and colleagues.
Lucie van Mens
A longtime health advocate who fought for global access to female condoms as an HIV prevention tool, Lucie van Mens was among the victims en-route to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne who died July 17 when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down.
Van Mens had worked in HIV health advocacy since 1995, and at the time of her death was director of Support, a program that trains educators and health workers on how to promote female condom use to potential users.
“She was driven by the women and men she sought to help,” says friend and fellow reproductive health advocate Serra Sippel, who over the years had frequently teamed up with van Mens to advocate for female condoms as a preventative weapon against HIV transmission.
The International AIDS Conference tends to focus on the latest medical and scientific advances, says Sippel, and van Mens’s voice would have helped make sure that prevention remained a part of the conversation. “She chose to work on an issue that many HIV advocates dismiss, and issue that many have given up on,” Sippel says. “Her loss should not be taken lightly and I hope her memory sparks new attention and commitment to prevention for women.”