AIDS researchers vow to find cure in memory of fallen MH17 colleagues

AIDS researchers have vowed to fight on for a cure in memory of their colleagues who died on their way to a conference in Melbourne, as organisers confirmed the names of six delegates lost on flight MH17.

Original reports suggested more than 100 delegates were on the plane heading to the 20th International Aids Conference, which will attract more than 15,000 people over the next six days.

However, on Saturday, International AIDS Society president Françoise Barré-Sinouss revised that number to "at least six" delegates, saying the loss of their friends was "hard to comprehend or express".

Visibly shaken, Professor Barré-Sinouss told a large contingent of local and international media: "Our colleagues were travelling because of their dedication to bringing an end to AIDS. We will honour their commitment and keep them in our hearts as we begin our program on Sunday."

She said it was too early to assess the impact of the loss on AIDS research but vowed the community would continue to work together as a tribute to their colleagues.

Among the confirmed dead are world-renowned scientist Joep Lange, co-director of the HIV Netherlands Australia Research Collaboration, and his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren, who worked for the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development.

Activists Lucie van Mens and Maria Adriana de Schutter from AIDS Action Europe also perished, along with World Health Organisation media adviser Glenn Thomas and Pim de Kuijer, a lobbyist for Stop AIDS Now.

Colleagues vowed their deaths would galvanise the HIV and AIDS research field.

"This is a large community and the spirit and energy is amazing and has not been dulled by this act of hatred. If anything it will inspire people even more to work towards finding a cure," said Professor Rob Moodie, former chair of global health at the University of Melbourne’s Nossal Institute, who has worked in HIV prevention for decades.

US President Barack Obama also paid tribute to the delegates: "In this world today we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these, people who are focused on what can be built rather than what can be destroyed, people who are focused on how they can help people that they've never met, people that define themselves not by what makes them different from other people but by the humanity that we hold in common.

"It's important for us to lift them up and to affirm their lives. And it's time for us to heed their example."

A moment of remembrance will be held for the lost delegates at the opening ceremony on Sunday and condolence books will be available.

As the extent of the loss sank in, floral tributes were placed at the large AIDS 2014 sign on Princes Bridge near the Arts Centre.

The death toll may have been higher had many delegates not chosen to fly to Melbourne with Emirates, the official conference airline, which had offered attendees discounted flights.

Leading researcher Daniel Kuritzkes, from Harvard Medical School, who is attending the conference, said the tragedy has had a "profound impact" on delegates.

Dr Kuritzkes said "visionary leader"  Mr Lange and  Ms van Tongeren were close personal friends. "His death, and the deaths of the other AIDS researchers on the plane leaves an immense void, but those of us who remain will redouble our efforts to advance the work for which he and the others who perished on the flight fought so hard."

The story AIDS researchers vow to find cure in memory of fallen MH17 colleagues first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop