KIEV, Ukraine — Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 shocked the world when it was struck down over disputed territory between the Ukraine and Russia. Although the exact cause of the crash is unconfirmed, the tragedy cost the lives of 298 people, including numerous AIDS researchers.
While the exact number is still uncertain, as many as 108 scientists could be lost from the tragedy, including Joep Lange, a beloved and dedicated researcher.
Lange and the other researchers were headed to Kuala Lampur from Amsterdam, on their way to the 20th International AIDS Conference. The event is taking place this weekend in Melbourne, Australia.
The International AIDS society, which runs the event, said the conference will still go on.
Spokespeople with the society said that the best way to respect those lost is to keep everything as planned, and it promised opportunities for those in attendance to honor their colleagues.
Lange, a 60 year-old Dutch doctor, was a member of the IAS and from 2002-2004, he was president of the organization. He was also a professor of medicine at the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam. He was a leader and vital piece of the Department of Global Health. His work in AIDS research involved partnerships with both the IAS and the World Health Organization.
Lange was the father to five daughters.
Colleagues all around the world expressed their sadness at the loss of such a brilliant mind. Many leaders in the fight against AIDS mourned not only Lange’s death, but the death of any future research he might have done.
Dr. H. Clifford Lane, deputy director for clinical research and special projects at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reflected that Lange’s loss will cause people to refocus on what is important. He hopes other researchers will rise to the cause that Lange fought for.
In his work, Lange participated in both the science and policy sides of the issue. He worked in HIV and TB research, coauthoring numerous studies since he began his work in 1983. He was part of a study proving that the presence or absence of certain glycosylation sites affect transmission of HIV-1 from mother to child. Lange also coauthored a study showing the drug enfuvirtide could help in retroviral therapy.
He was integral to the development of the antigen test, which is now commonly used to measure how much of the HIV virus is in the bloodstream of a patient.
Lange went beyond the research side of the problem by focusing his efforts on developing countries. In 2001, he founded the PharmAccess Foundation, which works to supply medication to impoverished areas. He also served as the co-director of a Thailand-based HIV research collaboration.
Other valued researchers died on the flight, as well. AIDS Fonds foundation members Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter are confirmed lost, as well as World Health Organization staff member Glenn Thomas.
Lange’s close partner Jaqueline van Tongeren also died in the crash.
Although the U.S. claims there is evidence that a surface-to-air missile is the cause of the crash, both sides of the Ukraine-Russia conflict claim they are not responsible. Putin puts all blame on Ukraine, while the Ukranian president Petro Poroshenko blames Russia, calling the event a “terrorist attack.”
Regardless of the cause, the flight has cost the lives of both those on board the flight and also those who could have been helped by the passengers’ work.
– Monica Roth