MH17 Tragedy: Not the end to quest for HIV cure


Even for a community that is used to tragedy, the sudden death of prominent HIV/AIDS researchers and activists in the Malaysian plane, which was allegedly shot down in eastern Ukraine en route to the International AIDS Conference in Australia came as a body blow to the global community.

The world has lost some of the best experts in the field of HIV/AIDS research. The loss has a massive impact on the quest to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.

We have lost global leaders and also some bright young people who were coming through.

The International AIDS Society (IAS) has confirmed that more than 100 HIV/AIDS activists, researchers and health workers bound for the Melbourne conference were on the Malaysia Airline’s MH17 flight.

The 20th International AIDS Conference that opened on Sunday in the State of Victoria is the premier gathering of international stakeholders in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers and people living with the virus.

According to International AIDS Conference, during the conference, participants assess milestones achieved, evaluate recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart the course forward.

Among the 100 victims who perished in the plane crash were Dr Joep Lange, a prominent HIV researcher and former president of the International AIDS Society.

According to a Press release by IAS, Lange, who was a Professor of Medicine and Head of the Department of Global Health at the Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, was one of the key researchers behind several HIV treatment trials. 

The AIDS society said he has been involved in HIV treatment and research since 1983, just as HIV was emerging as a global health threat. He was one of the key researchers behind several pivotal antiretroviral therapy trials, including projects involving the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus in both the developing and developed world, according to the Amsterdam Institute of Global Health and Development.

Apart from that, Lange was also an early advocate of bringing HIV medications to the developing world, travelling to the most under-served areas to promote best practices in HIV care.

The Amsterdam institute further noted that Lange immensely contributed to knowledge about HIV/AIDS with more than 300 academic papers and as editor of the journal, Antiviral Therapy.

Others who perished on the ill-fated flight were Lucie van Mens and Maria Adriana de Schutter from AIDS Action Europe along with World Health Organisation (WHO) media adviser, Glenn Thomas, and Pim de Kuijer, a lobbyist for Stop AIDS Now.

Although this is a great loss for the HIV/AIDS community at large, I believe that the MH17 tragedy should not dampen the spirits of other scientists and researchers, but rather inspire them to work harder towards finding a cure for HIV and save lives of those that are affected.

I am certain that the best way to honour the MH17 victims and the likes of Lange ‑ who dedicated their lives to battling HIV, is to continue with the search for a cure. The fact that the International AIDS Conference went ahead as scheduled is commendable.

May the souls of those who perished in MH17 tragedy rest in peace.

July 2014
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