The world of HIV and Aids research has been rocked by the Malaysia Airlines disaster which claimed the lives of more than 100 leading experts in the field.
Among the victims heading for the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia, was Dutch scientist Dr Joep Lange, who has been at the forefront of the fight against Aids for 30 years.
A total of 108 delegates to the conference were reportedly on the plane when flight MH17 came down. Among the dead were World Health Organisation staff, medical researchers, health workers and activists.
Malaysia: 44 (including 15 crew and two infants)
Indonesia: 12 (including one infant)
United Kingdom: 9
New Zealand: 1
Hong Kong: 1
Unconfirmed nationalities: 2
Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV/Aids charity, said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of all those aboard MH17, many of them our colleagues from the international HIV field.
“The impact of the hard work and commitment of clinicians, activists and academics who devote their careers to the fight against the epidemic is immeasurable. For the HIV community to lose so many of our leading lights is a cruel blow, and one we will feel for some time.”
Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s biggest research charity, paid a special tribute to Dr Lange, who died with his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren.
He said: “I am deeply saddened that Joep Lange, his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren, and other colleagues from the World Health Organisation and the HIV research community are reported to be among those killed in the MH17 disaster.
“Joep was a great clinical scientist, and a great friend of the Wellcome Trust who has long been a valued adviser. He was also a personal friend. He is a great loss to global health research. The thoughts and sympathies of all of us at the Trust are with his family and other families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy.”
Dr Lange was a former president of the International Aids Society and pioneered the availability of affordable HIV treatments across Africa and Asia. He has authored more than 350 scientific papers.
A spokesman for the Terrence Higgins Trust said the charity had sent a small deputation of three representatives to the conference, all of whom arrived safely. He had not heard that any British HIV/Aids experts were among the nine UK citizens killed in the disaster.
In a message posted on Twitter, the National Aids Trust described the death of Dr Lange as ``desperately sad news''.
Reports Joep Lange died in Malaysian plane crash today, with other scientists on way to @AIDS_conference. Desperately sad news.— National AIDS Trust (@NAT_AIDS_Trust) July 17, 2014
Robin Weiss, emeritus professor of viral oncology at University College London, said: “Not since the loss of Jonathan Mann and his wife on the sabotaged Swiss Air flight to Geneva 17 years ago has the HIV/Aids research community suffered such a great loss.”