Jul 20, 2014 3:22 AM GMT
NYT: As the airport lounge filled with passengers waiting to board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a renowned professor rushed to the gate while texting a colleague, saying that he was “superbusy.”
Veering into the business-class line, Joep Lange, an AIDS researcher, passed a former election observer who had just returned from Ukraine. They were among 298 passengers and crew aboard the flight, which was shot down over Ukraine on Thursday.
The disaster claimed the lives of a number of people headed to the International AIDS Conference, scheduled to begin on Sunday in Melbourne, Australia, the International AIDS Society said on Friday. Dr. Lange, 59, was accompanied by his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, 64. He was the executive scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, and she worked as a communications director there.
Researchers and activists were stunned to learn that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 had carried a number of people en route to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The World Health Organization confirmed on Friday that Glenn Thomas, 49, a communications officer, had also been aboard the plane. So had Pim de Kuijer, 32, a Dutch AIDS activist and former European Commission diplomat.
“We are bracing ourselves to hear of the deaths of others who worked in the AIDS response,” Michel Sidibé, executive director of Unaids, the United Nations agency fighting the disease, said in a statement. “The deaths of so many committed people working against H.I.V. will be a great loss.”
At a White House news conference on Friday, President Obama said, “These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others, and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.”
News of the crash greeted other AIDS researchers as they made connections in Sydney and elsewhere. The apprehension and grief were “enormous and pervasive,” Dr. Mike McCune, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said in an email.
After checking into his hotel in Melbourne, Dr. McCune went for a run and returned to find scientists from all over the world milling about the lobby, many in tears.
Dr. Lange, a former president of the AIDS society, began researching the epidemic in 1983 and had worked at the World Health Organization, heading clinical research and drug development in the mid-1990s. Even before the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief were created, Dr. Lange was a major advocate of affordable drugs for AIDS patients in poor countries.
He argued that the private sector should lead the way, especially companies with factories, breweries or mines in developing countries and many employees there, said Dr. Catherine Hankins, who was Dr. Lange’s deputy at the Amsterdam institute.
Dr. Lange created programs that improved health care in remote regions of Africa, inspiring the health organization and the Global Fund to start programs. He had just returned from Tanzania, where he was setting up a program to get antiretroviral medications to patients, Dr. Hankins said.
“My friend always tried to be there where politics and humanity were at odds with each other,” said Onno Schellekens, managing director of the Investment Fund for Health in Africa. “Maybe I’m being philosophical, but dying by being shot down by rebels in a way symbolized his life.”
Dr. Lange was eulogized Thursday night in Melbourne at a dinner for AIDS researchers who had arrived for early meetings of the AIDS society.
Dr. David Margolis, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who attended the dinner, said speakers had recalled a quotation by Dr. Lange: “If we can get a cold can of Coke to any part of Africa, we can certainly deliver AIDS treatment.”
Dr. Lange and Dr. David Cooper, an Australian researcher, founded a research program with doctors in Thailand known as H.I.V.-NAT, with the last three letters standing for Netherlands, Australia and Thailand.
“It was one of the first models of international collaboration on clinical research in a developing country,” said Dr. H. Clifford Lane, deputy director for clinical research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Joep was a very engaging person,” Dr. Lane added. “He spoke his mind, but never with anger. He was one of those people you’d seek out for a good discussion.”
Mr. de Kuijer was a lobbyist at Stop AIDS Now, a Dutch advocacy organization, and had worked as an election observer in Egypt, Kosovo and Ukraine, said his brother, Paul de Kuijer.
“He was an outspoken advocate on human rights, especially the position of women in society and position of gays in society,” his brother said.