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In Memorium: AIDS 2014 Delegates Lost in Malaysian Airlines Crash

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HIVandHepatitis.com expresses condolences to the families, loved ones, and colleagues of passengers on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which crashed on Thursday after being hit by a missile. Early reports indicated that more than 100 passengers were on their way to the 20th International AIDS Conference, which starts this Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.

Update 7/19/14: At a media briefing on Saturday, International AIDS Society president-elect Chris Beyrer stated that 6 conference delegates were confirmed to have been among those who died on flight MH17. This number may rise a bit when the full passenger list is released, but is not expected to approach the widely reported early numbers.

"There is a real consensus that our colleagues who dedicated their lives to HIV/AIDS would want this conference to go on," Beyrer said.

[Original article continues below]

Flight MH17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was reportedly hit by a surface-to-air missile fired near the Russia-Ukraine border. Both sides in the ongoing conflict blamed the other for the attack.

None of the nearly 300 passengers on the flight survived the explosion and crash. Among them were several prominent AIDS researchers and advocates, including renowned researcher and former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange.

"Joep was a a calm voice but an absolutely fierce and committed advocate for access to HIV care for all," said Paul Volberding of the University of California at San Francisco, quoted in theWashington Post. "He was unafraid of speaking the truth and especially willing to take public officials to task when they deserved it...This is an unspeakable loss, yet again to a senseless act of violence.

Others believed to have been killed in the crash include Glenn Thomas of the World Health Organization, Lucie van Mens of FHI 360, Martine de Schutter of AIDS Action Europe, and advocates Pim de Kuijer and Jacqueline van Tongeren. At press time the airline had not released an official list of the victims.

International AIDS Society president-elect Chris Beyrer expressed "sincere sadness" in a statement issued outside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, where AIDS 2014 delegates are already gathering for pre-conference events. Approximately 12,000 participants are expected to attend the meeting, scheduled to run through July 25.

The IAS said the organization "is continuing to work with the authorities to clarify how the tragic loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 impacts our conference delegates, our conference partners, and our community as a whole."

Beyrer said the IAS has only been able to confirm 7 conference delegate deaths and suspects the number killed in the crash may have been "much smaller" than the widely reported 108, according to the Washington Post.

"We are saddened and horrified by the senseless tragedy and irreplaceable loss of 298 valuable and promising lives, among colleagues...whose work confronting HIV and TB globally sought to make the world a healthier, safer and more just place for all people," the Infectious Diseases Society of America's Center for Global Health Policy and HIV Medicine Association stated. "The loss of our colleagues to the field and personally is immeasurable."

"Our hearts go out to the families of all the victims of this tragic crash," added UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. "The deaths of so many committed people working against HIV will be a great loss for the AIDS response." 

7/18/14

Sources

JAchenbach and A Cha. AIDS researcher Joep Lange confirmed among dead in Malaysia jet shoot-down. Washington Post. July 17, 2014.

C Hogan and A Cha. Top AIDS researcher and other scientists perished on MH17. Washington Post. July 18, 2014.

IDSA and HIVMA. Statement of the IDSA Center for Global Health Policy and the HIV Medicine Association on Malaysian Flight MH 17. Press release. July 18, 2014.

UNAIDS. UNAIDS in Shock Over Tragic Loss of Life. Press release. July 18, 2014.