The tragic Malaysian airlines crash may have far-reaching consequences for AIDS research. As many as one hundred of the world’s top HIV experts were among the 298 passengers on board the Boeing 777 when it was reportedly shot down by a missile fired from a Buk launcher in Eastern Ukraine.
While who, exactly, is responsible for the attack has not been officially determined, a Ukrainian official confirmed that MH-17 had been downed by a surface-to-air missile. Shortly before the plane was reported down, a pro-Russian militant claimed responsibility for downing what he claimed was a military aircraft, though it seems that he was actually referencing MH-17.
Among the researchers killed was Joep Lange, who researched HIV for more than 30 years and was considered a leader in the field. Lange was admired among his peers for his “tireless advocacy for access to affordable AIDS drugs for HIV positive patients living in poor countries,” according to Reuters.
“Global health and the AIDS response have lost one of their great leaders,” Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a former executive director of UNAIDS, told Reuters. “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.”
The United Nations AIDS program, UNAIDS, said that “some of the finest academics, health-care workers and activists in the AIDS response,” who were headed to the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne, Australia, ” may have perished” on the flight.
“The UNAIDS family is in deep shock…”The deaths of so many committed people working against HIV will be a great loss for the AIDS response,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS.
Among the dead were 154 from the Netherlands, forty-three from Malaysia, twenty-seven from Australia, twelve from Indonesia, nine from the United Kingdom, four from Germany, four from Belgium, three from the Philippines, one from Canada, and forty-one “unverified,” though it is speculated that twenty-three of the dead are Americans. Eighty of those who perished were reportedly children.