MELBOURNE – Speakers at the opening plenary of the 20th International AIDS Conference struggled with their emotions as they paid tribute to colleagues – including former International AIDS Society President Dr. Joep Lange – who were killed when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine.
Dr. Lange was instrumental in research and implementation of mother-to-child transmission therapy, and as president of the society, showed a rare combination of enthusiasm, commitment, and perseverance, Lambert Grijns, Dutch Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV/AIDS, said July 20.
Dr. Lange’s partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, also was killed in the incident, along with Lucie van Mens, who Mr. Grijns said had advocated the cause of sex workers at a time when few other were doing so.
"She was a driving force in advocacy for the female condom, she gave the product its rightful place in the field of sexual reproductive health and rights, and her impact will continue to be felt," Mr Grijns told the packed auditorium.
Other high-profile researchers on the flight included Martine de Schutter, program manager for Bridging The Gap, who Mr. Grijns said had been a staunch defender of human rights and the right to good health; Glenn Thomas from the World Health Organization’s communications team; and Pim de Kuijer, a prominent AIDS campaigner and lobbyist for Stop AIDS Now!
Prof. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, IAS president and the director of the regulation of retroviral infections unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, called for a moment’s silence in their memory, during which the audience spontaneously rose to its feet.
"Our colleagues were traveling because of their dedication to bringing an end to AIDS, and our determination to continue their work honors their commitment," she said.