A number of AIDS researchers and prevention advocates, including pioneering expert Dr. Joep Lange, presumably perished on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed Thursday in eastern Ukraine having been shot down by a missile.
The activists were en route to Melbourne, Australia, for the 20th International AIDS Conference, due to begin on Sunday. Former President Bill Clinton is listed as one of the conference’s featured speakers.
In a statement, the International AIDS Society said “the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost.”
Among the reported victims were Glenn Raymond Thomas, a Geneva-based spokesman for the World Health Organization; Pim de Kuijer, an AIDS activist from the Netherlands; Martine de Schutter, who worked for organizations associated with the Netherlands-based AIDS Fonds foundation.
Lange, a former president of the International AIDS Society, played a key role in the early years of the AIDS crisis. According to The New York Times, he began researching the epidemic in 1983. Lange went on to lead clinical research and drug development for the W.H.O in the mid-1990s. Most recently, he was a professor of medicine at the University of Amsterdam and executive scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, where he had conducted research on antiretroviral therapy and mother-to-child transmission of H.I.V.
“Joep [Lange] was a giant in this field,” Mitchell Warren, Executive Director of New York based AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, told NBC News. “[He was] a researcher who really ‘got it’ in terms of human rights, equity and justice. He was as much activist as researcher — and that is rare. Incredibly sad.”
Lange's death is a huge loss to the HIV/AIDS global health communities, according to a statement from amFar, The Foundation for AIDS Research. “He inspired legions of AIDS researchers, healthcare workers and activists and was an inspiration to me personally. He will be sorely missed," said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost.
At a press briefing Friday, President Obama spoke of the AIDS researchers, who he said "were taken from us in a senseless act of violence."
"In this world today we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these, people who are focused on what can be built rather than what can be destroyed, people who are focused on how they can help people that they've never met, people that define themselves not by what makes them different from other people but by the humanity that we hold in common," said Obama. "It's important for us to lift them up and to affirm their lives. And it's time for us to heed their example."