Leading AIDS researcher Joep Lange is reported to have been among the passengers on the doomed Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that was brought down by a missile near Hrabove on the border of eastern Ukraine and Russia earlier today. Lange was among other researchers heading to Melbourne for the 20th International AIDS conference, AIDS2014. Former President Bill Clinton is among the keynote speakers at the event.
On Facebook and Twitter, friends and supporters were quick to express their shock and sadness. "One of the greats in AIDS research," wrote activist Peter Staley on Facebook, adding that Joep was a pioneer in PrEP research. "How do we measure how much a person has done for humanity? People like Joep change the course of epidemics," tweeted US doctor, Seem Yasmin.
Joep, who dedicated much of his life to improving access to HIV/AIDS therapies in developing countries, served as President of the International AIDS Society from 2002 to 2004. He leaves behind a wife and five children.
Of those on the flight, which American officials now confirm was brought down by a surface-to-air missile, possibly by Ukranian separatists, at least 154 were Dutch, with a further 45 identified as Malaysian, and 27 as Australian.
As news filtered through that the crash was caused by a missile, and that a significant number of passengers were headed to the AIDS conference, Staley updated his Facebook page: "A Putin-supplied missile just ripped a hole through the heart of the international AIDS community."
Sean Strub, the founder of POZ magazine, and author of Body Counts: a Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival, who has just arrived in Melbourne for the AIDS conference, writes: "Those of us who have been engaged in AIDS work for many years are more practiced at grief than any human should ever have to become. Its a familiarity that can create coping mechanisms others don't understand, sometimes including an external stoicism. We learned long ago how to crawl through the rubble of human destruction to carry on, despite the deaths of close friends and allies. That's what we're going to do in the days ahead."
Editor's note: this story has been changed to reflect new information as it unfolds.