HIV community mourns lost colleagues
The start of the International Aids Conference in Melbourne this week has been overshadowed by the tragic deaths of six delegates who were on board Malaysia Airlines MH17.
Tributes have poured in from the international research community and pharmaceutical companies after it was confirmed that at least six people due to attend the conference were among those lost on the downed airliner.
Flight MH17 crashed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on 17 July, killing all 298 people on board. The United Nations Security Council has now adopted a resolution demanding access to the crash site amid claims that the airliner was downed by a missile.
Those lost in the tragedy include prominent Dutch HIV researcher Joep Lange - co-director of the HIV Netherlands Australia Research Collaboration (HIV-NAT) - along with his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development.
One of the early advocates for the use of antiretroviral drug cocktails that are now critical for suppressing the virus in people living with HIV, Lange was a former president of the International AIDS Society and the founder of the PharmAccess Foundation, a charity which strives to improve access to HIV therapy around the world.
The other delegates confirmed by the IAS as being on Flight MH17 are: Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter of Aids Fonds/STOP AIDS NOW!; Lucie van Mens of The Female Health Company; and The World Health Organization's Glenn Thomas.
"The extent of our loss is hard to comprehend or express," said President of the IAS, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who is chairing this year's AIDS conference, which started on Sunday with a minute's silence to remember those who lost their lives. "We grieve alongside all of those throughout the world who have lost friends and family in this senseless tragedy."
Barré-Sinoussi went on: "I strongly believe that all of us being here for the next week to discuss, to debate, and to learn is indeed what our colleagues who are no longer with us would have wanted. We dedicate AIDS 2014 to them."
Johnson & Johnson's chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels added his voice to those reflecting on the tragedy, praising Dr Lange - with whom he had worked for some 20 years - as a "a hero in the fight against HIV" and an " uncompromising champion for patients, in particular for women and children infected with HIV or at risk for HIV infection."
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) issued a statement saying: "We join the global health community in mourning the loss of scientists, researchers, health officials and campaigners and extend our deepest sympathy to all those colleagues, friends and fellow members of the AIDS community who are affected by this tragic event."