Hopes for AIDs cure set back as 100 top researchers killed
The destroyed Malaysia Airlines flight was carrying more than 100 of the world's top HIV researchers heading to an international conference in Australia, resulting in a devastating loss of expertise that could set back the global search for a cure for Aids.
The victims, whose deaths left the international HIV research community in mourning, included staff from the World Health Organisation and medical researchers, health workers and activists who were due to attend the 10th International Aids Conference in Melbourne.
One of the experts who has been confirmed dead was the pioneering HIV researcher Joep Lange, a former president of the International Aids Society, who had been carrying out research into Aids for 30 years.
Dr Lange, a Dutchman, was travelling with his wife Jacqueline van Tongeren, who had co-ordinated HIV-related health projects.
Described by colleagues as a "visionary", Dr Lange authored more than 350 papers and helped to lead the fight for the availability of affordable treatments across Asia and Africa.
"He was a kind man and a true humanitarian," Seema Yasmin, a United States medical professor, wrote on Twitter. "How do we measure how much a person has done for humanity? People like Joep change the course of epidemics . . . What a HUGE loss to the world.''
The conference, from July 20 to 25, was due to feature the world's leading researchers, as well as advocates and guests such as Bill Clinton and Bob Geldof.
Trevor Stratton, a Canadian HIV researcher who is attending the conference, said the plane was carrying some of the leaders in the field.
"What if the cure for Aids was on that plane? Really? We don't know," he told ABC News.
"There were some really prominent researchers that have been doing this for a very long time and we're getting close to vaccines and people are talking about cures and the end of Aids. And you can't help but wonder what kind of expertise was on that plane."
News of Dr Lange's death prompted a flood of messages of condolence and tributes on social media.
The International Aids Society said Dr Lange's death meant "the HIV/Aids movement has truly lost a giant".
"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," it added.
Francoise Barre-Sinousi, a Nobel laureate and the society's president, said the best tribute to Dr Lange was for the conference to go ahead.
"It's our duty for us that are still there to try really to have a new generation of Joep and others," she said.
Other delegates reportedly on board the flight included Lucie van Mens, a public health expert with 20 years' experience; and Martine de Schutter and Pim de Kuijer, who were Aids researchers and campaigners.
Delegates at a pre-conference event in Sydney were reportedly informed yesterday that 108 delegates had been on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.
"It's going to be a very sombre mood at the conference in Melbourne, especially for those of us who have been coming to these conferences for many years," Clive Aspin, a health researcher, told Fairfax Media. (© Daily Telegraph, London)