Nobel laureate Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-chair of the conference, invited dozens of representatives of HIV research and advocacy groups, mostly from the Netherlands, to the stage yesterday as she paid respects to the 298 passengers and crew who died on board flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Former International AIDS Society President Joep Lange and his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, were among the dead. World Health Organization spokesman Glenn Thomas, lobbyist Pim de Kuijer and program manager Martine de Schutter from the Netherlands AIDS Fund were also on board.
“Let our silence represent our sadness, our anger and our solidarity,” said Barre-Sinoussi, who was awarded a Nobel prize for discovering the viral cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. “We will remember their legacy and keep them in our hearts.”
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, singer Bob Geldof and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among about 12,000 public figures, researchers, health-care workers and people living with HIV slated to attend the biennial five-day meeting at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. While the deaths of those on board flight MH17 have brought “sadness and shock,” Sharon Lewin, an infectious diseases physician and the conference’s other co-chair, said the meeting has to press ahead, working toward a cure for HIV.
“I’m sure that’s what our colleagues on MH17 would be wanting us to do,” Lewin told the meeting, which was also addressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon via a televised message. He also paid tribute to those who didn’t complete their trip to Melbourne.
Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV, or UNAIDS, was applauded as he called for an end to AIDS by 2030. In her opening speech, Barre-Sinoussi said fighting the disease would require more effort to improve the lives of those with HIV.
“In every region of the world, stigma and discrimination are the main barrier to effective access to health,” she said.
Lange was the head of global health at the Academic Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam. His work focused on the epidemic in Africa, including getting people with HIV onto antiretroviral drugs more quickly, and improving access to drugs on the continent.
He worked on HIV for three decades and was the author of more than 350 scientific papers. Lange was also chief of clinical research and drug development for WHO’s Global Program on AIDS from 1992 to 1995, and IAS president from 2002 to 2004.
The Boeing Co. 777 crashed about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Russian border in the main battleground of Ukraine’s civil war.