AIDS community mourns loss of pioneer researcher Joep Lange

Joep Lange (right) with Praphan Phanuphak and David Cooper, co-directors of HIVNAT, a joint research centre in Bangkok, Thailand. Kirby Institute, Author provided

This article was updated at 12.30pm on Saturday July 19.

The international AIDS community is mourning the deaths of researchers, community activists, health workers and people with HIV whose plane was shot down over Ukraine as they travelled to Melbourne for a global AIDS conference.

Despite widespread reports that around 100 of the plane’s passengers were on way to the AIDS2014 conference, that figure is unconfirmed.

WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas AAP/United Nations, CC BY

The former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange and his partner and ArtAids board member Jacqueline van Tongeren have been confirmed as having been on the flight.

The International AIDS Society has also confirmed that four other AIDS2014 delegates – Lucie van Mens and Maria Adriana de Schutter from AIDS Action Europe, Pim de Kuijer from STOP AIDS NOW! and Glenn Thomas from the World Health Organization’s Department of Communications – were also on board.

298 people – 283 passengers including three infants and 15 crew – were killed on the Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

Global leaders mourned

David Cooper, director of the Kirby Institute at UNSW Australia, was a friend of Joep Lange. He received a call at 3am telling him that Lange and his partner were on the flight.

Professor Cooper said his colleague of 30 years had “an absolute commitment to HIV treatment and care in Asia and Africa”.

“Joep was absolutely committed to the development of affordable HIV treatments, particularly combination therapies, for use in resource-poor countries,” Professor Cooper said.

Professor Lange was a professor of medicine and head of the Department of Global Health at the Academic Medical Centre at the University of Amsterdam. He served as president of the International AIDS Society from 2002 to 2004.

In his 30 years of researching HIV, he led pivotal trials of antiretroviral therapy and published more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

“Another outstanding area of [Lange’s] contribution has been his pioneering role in exploring affordable and simple antiretroviral drug regimens for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in resource-poor settings,” Professor Cooper said.

“Both of these have been part of his dedication to increasing access to effective HIV treatment.

“The joy in collaborating with Joep was that he would always bring a fresh view, a unique take on things, and he never accepted that something was impossible to achieve.”

AIDS2014 delegates feared lost

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has told reporters this morning: “A number of people who were travelling to Malaysia for an international AIDS conference were also on board”.

The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was due to connect with a flight to Perth, before people travelled onto Melbourne, Reuters and others have reported.

UNAIDS director Michael Sidibe, who is already in Melbourne for the week-long 20th International Aids Conference, tweeted: “Many passengers were enroute to #AIDS2014 here in #Melbourne.”

The conference organisers, the International AIDS Society, released a statement expressing “sincere sadness” at the news of the M17 disaster:

At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy.