Several members of the international HIV and AIDS research community were killed when a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Reports have said that up to 100 of the passengers may have been en route to the 2014 International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia. However, the conference organisers have only been able to confirm seven names, according to The Washington Post. Those killed include HIV and AIDS researchers, activists, and community members both young and old. All were committed to furthering HIV and AIDS research, access to care and awareness worldwide.
The most famous researcher among those killed was Joep Lange, former president of the International AIDS Society and the executive scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development. “It is an incalculable loss,” leading AIDS activist Gregg Gonsalves told Business Insider. He called Lange “an important, vital ally for AIDS activists around the world.”
Lange, a Dutch citizen, was an early proponent of getting access to HIV and AIDS treatment to everyone in the world who needed it. “He stood up and said it is vital that these drugs aren’t just getting to the rich few in Europe and North America and Australia, but all over the world,” said Gonsalves.
Lange’s partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, also died in the crash. She was involved in the European AIDS community as the director of communications at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development and a nurse.
Lucie van Mens, a Dutch citizen and the director of program development and support at The Female Health Company, was on the flight as well. Active in HIV and AIDS prevention since 1995, van Mens was passionate about promoting female condom support and training in the developing world.
“The brilliance and leadership of Dutch researchers and activists lost on MH17 cannot be replaced,” Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity told Business Insider. “Lucie van Mens was a dear friend and colleague. She was a tireless pioneer in advocating for women’s access to female condoms as dual protection to prevent HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy. [She was] committed to the idea that putting protection in the hands of women is an urgent matter of human rights, gender equality, and public health.”
Also among the dead were HIV and AIDS activists Martine de Schutter and Pim de Kuijer. Both worked for the AIDS Fonds foundation in the Netherlands. “AIDS Fonds has been a cornerstone of funding for AIDS groups around the world,” said Gonsalves. “While the death of Joep Lange is a tragedy, it’s just confounded by the fact that these community workers and charity workers were killed in the crash as well.”
The World Health Organisation confirmed in a statement that Glenn Thomas, a media officer at the WHO, was onboard the flight. “Glenn will be remembered for his ready laugh and his passion for public health,” the statement said.
As noted by The Washington Post, there have been two other aviation disasters that have befallen the AIDS research community over the past twenty-five years:
Irving Sigal, a molecular biologist who helped develop the drugs used to treat HIV, died in the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Ten years later, prominent researchers Jonathan Mann and Mary Lou Clements-Mann died in the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia.
The International AIDS Society released a statement saying that the 20th International AIDS Conference will go on as planned “in recognition of our colleagues’ dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
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