Almost one third of the passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, the commercial airliner shot down by an antiaircraft missile over eastern Ukraine yesterday, were top AIDS researchers and activists en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference, due to begin Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.
Though initial sources haven’t confirmed who, exactly, fired the missile or where it even came from, it is assumed that the event was triggered by ongoing tension between Ukraine and Russia, and was not motivated by anything AIDS-related.
Among the 298 people presumed to be dead, about 100 were medical researchers, health workers, and activists working in the HIV/AIDS community. Included in the presumed death toll is Joep Lange, lead clinical researcher, former International AIDS Society president and founder of not-for-profit PharmAccess Foundation, an organization that aims to improve access to HIV/AIDS treatments in developing countries.
Organizers of the International AIDS Conference expressed grief in a statement to press yesterday.
“A number of colleagues and friends en route to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were on board the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight that has crashed over Ukraine,” Michael Kessler of the International AIDS Society confirmed in the statement. “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.”
Shocked by the sudden loss of great fixtures in the HIV/AIDS community, several other top researchers took to social media yesterday to express condolences:
Officials are still arguing about who shot down the plane and how best to deal with the wreckage site. Check out the most complete rundown of the ongoing situation over at Gawker.
Update, 4:07 pm: amfAR has released a statement regarding the death of Dr. Joep Lange. It reads in part:
Dr. Lange’s passing is a profound loss to the HIV/AIDS and global health community. All of us at amfAR extend our heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of Dr. Lange and the other researchers and AIDS activists who lost their lives in the crash of flight MH17.
“Joep Lange was a towering presence in the fight against AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic and a wonderful friend, colleague, and teacher,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “He inspired legions of AIDS researchers, healthcare workers and activists and was an inspiration to me personally. He will be sorely missed.”