If you haven’t seen these sad news stories… two articles pasted below.
Andrew A. Gans, MPH
HIV, STD and Hepatitis Section Manager
New Mexico Department of HEALTH (NMDOH)
Crash claims top AIDS researchers heading to Melbourne
Steve Lillebuen July 18, 2014
Joep Lange. Photo: aighd.org
* MH17: Full coverage
About 100 of the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash were heading to Melbourne for a major AIDS conference, conference attendees have been told.
Delegates at a pre-conference in Sydney were told on Friday morning that about 100 medical researchers, health workers and activists were on the plane that went down near the Russia-Ukraine border, including former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange.
Health researcher Clive Aspin, who is attending the pre-conference, said the news had hit everyone hard, coming 16 years after AIDS research pioneer Jonathan Mann also died in a plane crash.
"Yet again, we’re devastated by a similar tragedy," he said. "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."
Organisers of the International AIDS Conference, due to begin in Melbourne on Sunday , have not released numbers, but did confirm expected attendees were among the dead.
"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 (IAS) said in a 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."
The passenger plane had been flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down, killing all 298 people on board. It was due to connect with another Malaysia Airlines flight scheduled to arrive in Melbourne on Friday night. Many medical researchers have expressed sympathy online upon hearing that both World Health Organisation (WHO) staff and well-known HIV researchers had died in the crash.
Friends and colleagues of Dutch HIV researcher Dr Joep Lange took to social media to express shock that he was among the victims. Dr Lange had been researching HIV for 30 years.
”He was a kind man and a true humanitarian,” US medical professor Seema Yasmin wrote in a series of tweets dedicated to him. ”How do we measure how much a person has done for humanity? People like Joep change the course of epidemics.” Dr Yasmin could not be immediately contacted.
What a HUGE loss to the world. Just learned that dear friend, amazing father to 5 girls and veteran AIDS researcher Joep Lange was o
- Dr. Seema Yasmin (@DoctorYasmin) July 17, 2014
Also believed to be among the victims was Glenn Thomas, a WHO media adviser. Several of his colleagues have expressed shock over his death on Twitter.
UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe said he was saddened to hear so many AIDS conference attendees died in the crash.
”My thoughts & prayers to families of those tragically lost on flight,” he tweeted.
President-elect of the International AIDS Society, Chris Beyrer, expressed “sincere sadness” at the news that “colleagues and friends” were on board the flight on the way to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.
"The IAS is hearing unconfirmed reports that some of our friends and colleagues were on board the flight and if that is the case this is a truly sad day."
"The IAS has also heard reports that among the passengers was a former IAS president Joep Lange and if that is the case then the HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant."
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she understood a number of the victims were heading to the AIDS conference, but she had no further details.
Greens Senator Christine Milne expressed her shock at such a loss to the HIV-AIDS community.
”The ramifications go to all the people who are at that conference this weekend and no doubt as more details emerge this tragedy will touch many, many Australians,” she told the Senate.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said MH17 was to connect with MH129 arriving in Melbourne on Friday evening.
"Unfortunately, I can now confirm that a number of Victorians are among those who have been killed, although we are not yet in a position to say how many," he said in a statement.
"This is a sad and tragic day, not just for Victorians, but for all people and all nations. The shooting down of a passenger aircraft full of innocent civilians is an unspeakable act that will forever leave a dark stain on our history."
He said his office had been in contact with the AIDS conference organisers and the government had offered to co-operate with DFAT to provide assistance to any delegates who require support.
Emails sent to several WHO staff prompted out-of-office replies stating they were en route to Melbourne for the AIDS conference. Representatives from WHO could not be immediately contacted.
Mark Gettleson, a London-based campaigner, tweeted that AIDS activists were also heading from Europe to Melbourne.
”Several o flight were @STOPAIDS activists en route to conference in Melbourne, fighting to save lives. Tragic,” he wrote.
The International AIDS Conference is now in its 20th year and has attracted major speakers, including former US president Bill Clinton, Sir Bob Geldof and Indonesian Health Minister Nafsiam Mboi.
- with Richard Willingham and Timna Jacks
AIDS researchers fighting to save lives killed in Ukraine crash
By Caelainn Hogan July 18 at 5:23 AM
After a day of news saturated with images of smoking plane wreckage and reports that perhaps dozens of his fellow HIV researchers heading to the 2014 AIDS conference in Melbourne may have been on board Flight MH17, Richard Elion had to board a long flight from Los Angeles to Australia.
"I am about to leave for Melbourne," Elion, an HIV specialist and clinical research director at Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, wrote from his iPhone Thursday night on his way to the airport in Los Angeles.
"It is hard to get excited about sharing information yet without a time to mourn," he wrote. "It is very sad and will cast a pallor over the meetings."
On the ground in Melbourne on Thursday afternoon, organizations scheduled to attend pre-conference events held emergency meetings to plan the painful process of contacting families of colleagues and staff they feared may have been on board the flight shot down in Ukraine. Missing, among others, was a World Health Organization spokesman, Glenn Thomas, who was on the flight.
Organizers of the conference, which is expecting about 14,000 delegates, had not yet confirmed numbers but were expecting a number of attendees to be among the dead.
The crash claimed the lives of 298 passengers, with no survivors. Every confirmation of a colleague, friend or loved one onboard came with the heavy knowledge of what it meant.
Chris Beyrer, who will take over the presidency of the International AIDS Society at the end of the global conference next week, had just come out of a meeting about losses on his staff when he took a call from The Washington Post.
"I thought you might be one of our folks," he said when he answered the phone at around 1:00 p.m. Australian time. "We’re awaiting confirmation and names, for their families to be contacted."
Then there was a long pause and a sharp inhaling of breath as he received word from a Post reporter that the employer of one of his colleagues, a friend of 20 years, had confirmed the colleague was on board.
"I was just with him in Amsterdam a few weeks ago," he said, speaking of Joep Lange, a preeminent Dutch HIV researcher, former president of the International AIDS Society and father of five daughters, who was one of the first to be named among the passengers of MH17, along with his partner.
"He was a visionary," said Beyrer, reminiscing about the first time he met Lange as a young epidemiologist working in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 1993. "I’ll never forget it … my secretary said in Thai some foreigners are here to see you. They want to talk to you about HIV. So I said, ‘All right,’ and in walked Joep."
Elion, who also greatly admired Lange, described him as a great physician who “merged science with a social purpose and a sense of justice. He is not a person who cannot be replaced, rather remembered with bittersweetness.”
As Lange held the presidency Beyrer will soon take on, he said he could only hope to emulate his predecessor, who he knew as not only a “tremendous leader in the scientific and clinical study of AIDS,” but also as an “engaged advocate” who “played an instrumental role in convincing many skeptics it would be possible to deliver HIV treatment to the poorest countries in the world.”
"We’re still not even half way there - there are still half of those infected not living with treatment and resources are declining. That same combination of advocacy and science is needed to finish this fight," Beyrer added, noting that this year’s conference, which will take place from July 20 to July 25, will focus on the need to provide access for key populations at risk.
Death in the line of duty is not new to this group. Many have worked and traveled in poor nations with infrastructures that make trips inherently hazardous. Some have died in car accidents in such places.
"It always hits home that this is a part of our work," said Beyrer. "Those of us out working on this pandemic always feel it."
The AIDS research community has lost important leaders in the field before to aviation tragedies - Irving Sigal, a molecular biologist who helped develop the drugs used to treat HIV, died when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Ten years later, prominent researchers Jonathan Mann and Mary Lou Clements-Mann died when Swissair Flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia.
"What if the cure for AIDS was on that plane?" asked Canadian HIV researcher Trevor Stratton, who had arrived early to Sydney, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
While reports are circulating that more than one-third of the 298 passengers on the flight were medical researchers and advocates attending the conference - and organizations are saying that they are aware more of their colleagues and staff are suspected to have been on board - only a few names have been confirmed so far.
As well as Lange, World Health Organization media adviser Glenn Thomas was confirmed as one of the six Britons on the plane by one of his colleagues at WHO, Rachel Baggaley.
"I’m just devastated. He’s a very close colleague whom I work with on a daily basis. He just had his birthday, he was going to plan all sorts of celebrations," Baggaley, of the WHO’s HIV department, told Vox.
The 32-year-old activist Pim de Kuijer, whose last photo and post on Facebook was from Schiphol Airport where flight MH17 took off, was remembered by his colleague Nabeela Shabbir of Stop AIDS Now in a tribute published in the Guardian on Thursday.
Shabbir said Kuijer’s final journey, en route to the AIDS conference, “typified his concern for others.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said “a number of passengers” were traveling to the conference, set to begin on Sunday. She noted that some of the world’s foremost researchers were thought to have been on the flight.
A moment of silence was held in the Australian House of Representatives to honor the dead, AP reported, which included 27 Australians. Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, who is scheduled to address the AIDS conference on Monday, said she knew there will be “many empty spots.”