‘Cruel blow’ to international fight against HIV and Aids

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LEADING LIGHTS in the international fight against HIV and Aids were among those killed in the disaster.

Among the victims heading for the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia, was pioneering Dutch scientist Dr Joep Lange, who has been at the forefront of the fight against Aids for 30 years, and his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren.

A total of 108 delegates to the conference were reportedly on the plane, including World Health Organisation staff, medical researchers, health workers and activists.

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV/Aids charity, said the impact of the work of those who died was “immeasurable.”

She added:“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 Lange was a former president of the International Aids Society and pioneered the availability of affordable HIV treatments across Africa and Asia.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s biggest research charity, said Dr Lange was “a great clinical scientist,” a valued adviser and personal friend.

He said: “He is a great loss to global health research.”

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.”

Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and former executive director of the United Nations body Unaids, said: “My good friend Professor Joep Lange was one of the most creative Aids researchers, a humanist, and tireless organiser, dedicated to his patients and to defeating Aids in the poorest countries. Global health and the Aids response have lost one of their great leaders.”

Andrew Phillips, Professor of HIV Epidemiology and Biostatistics at University College London, said: “Joep was a highly influential HIV researcher who made a huge contribution over the past three decades and those of us working in the field who knew him personally are feeling an enormous sense of loss of a much valued colleague.”

The International Aids Society said the conference would go ahead as planned and would include “opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost.”