Aids researchers among dead on crashed Malaysian jet
Dutch doctor and WHO official were also travelling to conference in Melbourne
Members of the public walk past signage on the Princes Bridge for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne today. Photograph: Graham Denholm/Getty Images
Dutch doctor Joep Lange and a World Health Organization official heading to an Aids meeting in Melbourne were among 298 people killed on the Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Many passengers on board flight MH17, which crashed over Ukraine, were en route to the 20th International Aids Conference, said Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the meeting’s co- chair.
“I have no words really to express my sadness,” Ms Barre- Sinoussi, who was awarded a Nobel prize in 2008 for discovering HIV, told reporters in Canberra attending a National Press Club event.
“I feel totally devastated.”
There were 108 Aids meeting delegates on the flight, the Australian newspaper reported today.
“We haven’t heard any numbers,” said Sharon Lewin, head of infectious diseases at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and the other co-chair of the biennial conference.
Speaking at the event in Canberra, Ms Lewin choked back tears as she paid tribute to Mr Lange, a former president of the International Aids Society, or IAS.
The head of global health at the Academic Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam, Mr Lange was the author of more than 350 scientific papers. He was chief of clinical research and drug development at the WHO’s Global Program on Aids from 1992 to 1995 and president of the IAS from 2002 to 2004.
“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 organization said in a statement.
“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.”
Among those confirmed killed was Glenn Thomas, a Geneva- based communications officer for the WHO, said Rachel Baggaley, coordinator of the UN agency’s HIV prevention program, who arrived in Melbourne earlier today.
“We are in shock,” Ms Baggaley said over the telephone.
“It’s casting a shadow over the whole thing.”
Twitter posts with the #AIDS2014 hash tag refer to at least four more delegates from non-governmental organisations on board the Boeing Co. 777, which crashed about 30km from the Russian border in the main battleground of Ukraine’s civil war.