For the 12,000 participants gathering for an international AIDS conference here, a candlelight vigil had been planned as an opportunity to remember millions of people around the world who died from HIV/AIDS.
This year, the vigil on Tuesday will take on additional poignancy. Conference organizers confirmed Saturday that at least six prominent AIDS researchers and activists were among those on the downed Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU -11.11% Flight 17—news that rattled the tightknit scientific community and prompted soul-searching about whether the event should go ahead at all.
"The extent of our loss is hard to comprehend or express," said Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society, which organized the conferencethat takes place every two years.
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of of the International AIDS society, with Executive Director Owen Ryan (L) and President-Elect Chris Beyrer during a press conference Saturday. European Pressphoto Agency
Among those known to have died aboard Flight 17 was Joep Lange, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam who had worked in AIDS research since 1983, nearly the beginning of the epidemic. His partner and former nurse Jacqueline van Tongeren was also killed, as was Lucie van Mens, whose campaigning for wider use of female condoms by young girls at risk of HIV infection took her frequently to sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr. Lange was among the best known of the 283 passengers and 15 crew on board Flight 370 when it went down in eastern Ukraine Thursday. He had garnered a world-wide reputation for his involvement in HIV research and treatment. A professor of medicine at Amsterdam University, he was a principal investigator on several pivotal trials on antiretroviral therapy and on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. He is credited with more than 350 published papers in peer-reviewed journals and has guided more than 30 Ph.D. students.
Former International AIDS Society head Joep Lange was one of the most prominent passengers on MH17. He was en route to Melbourne to attend the world's largest AIDS summit. The WSJ's Ramy Inocencio talks with reporter Daniel Stacey on Mr. Lange's life.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Lange switched his focus to helping deliver the drugs to low-income communities in places such as Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania. He enlisted the help of Dutch companies including Heineken International and Royal Dutch ShellRDSA.LN -0.21% PLC for financial backing.
His projects became models for large-scale rollouts of drugs across Africa by the World Health Organization and other organizations.
"We absolutely need dedicated researchers like Joep Lange to find a way forward," said Marcus Low, head of policy at Treatment Action Campaign in Cape Town, an organization that gained prominence in South Africa during the late 1990s as a vocal advocate for increased access to HIV and AIDS treatments. "They don't just sit in a lab, which is important, but also work to ensure we have the information, supplies, the money to buy the medicines."
Africa, with its high rates of HIV/AIDS, was a particular focus for campaigners like Mr. Lange and Ms. van Mens.
Steve Kraus, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team in the Asian-Pacific region, recalled Ms. van Mens's energy and commitment to spreading use of the female condom, especially among young girls in sub-Saharan Africa, a group that accounts for 25% of new infections across the continent.
"The Dutch government has been a global champion for many, many years of sexual reproductive health and sexual rights and that includes access to reproductive health commodities like male and female condoms," he said. "Lucie was very much a part of that."
The IAS also named Pim de Kuijer, a campaigner and parliamentary lobbyist at Stop AIDS Now!, Maria Adriana de Schutter of AIDS Action Europe, and Glenn Thomas, a former BBC journalist who worked for the World Health Organization's press team among conference delegates aboard the ill-fated Flight 17.


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