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Remembering The HIV and AIDS Activists Killed on MH17

Remembering The HIV and AIDS Activists Killed on MH17


Six passengers of the 298 killed on Malaysia Airlines flight 17 were researchers and advocates heading to Melbourne, Australia for the International AIDS Conference. Here friends, family members, and colleagues mourn their loss and celebrate their lives.

The news of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 being shot out of the sky was received with a collective global gasp of horror.

A BUK missile launched by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian region downed the flight with nearly 300 innocent citizens from various countries on board. Among those passengers were some of the world’s leading HIV and AIDS advocates and researchers.

The victims were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. So far, authorites have confirmed the identities of six researchers and advocates among the 298 passengers and crewmembers onboard the flight.

Hiv-aids-conf-australia-400x400Left: President of the International AIDS Society Francoise Barre-Sinoussi during the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the president of the International AIDS Society, disputes the original estimations that there were 108 conference attendees on the flight.

“It might be a little higher [than six] but not the numbers” in some reports, Barre-Sinoussi told Forbes, adding: “The extent of our loss is hard to comprehend or express.”

The conference opened with a minute of silence for those lost in the tragic attack. According to a press release, representatives of the organizations that lost members on MH17 stood on stage during the tribute paid to the victims.

“This is a profound collective loss to science, to research, to medicine and to public health,” Shaun Mellors, the associate director for Africa at the International HIV and AIDS Alliance told Forbes. “They spent their lives fighting for the lives of others and we pledge to continue their important work.”

In memoriam, we have gathered reflections on those researchers and activists lost on MH17, as remembered by thier friends, family, and loved ones. 

Joep-lange-x633Joep Lange was the former president of the International AIDS Society, and a professor of medicine at the University of Amsterdam. According to NPR, colleagues of Lange credit him with making breakthroughs in HIV and AIDS treatment accessible to even the poorest patients by working with governments and businesses.

"[Lange's] life's work didn't just reflect the changes in AIDS," Dr. Richard Marlink, the head of the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative, told NPR. "He led those changes."

Martine-de-schutter-x633Martine de Schutter had spent time working for the World Health organization in South America before returning to the Netherlands to fight the international crisis surrounding sexually transmitted infections. In 2004, de Schutter became a major player of AIDS Action Europe, according to a memorial page by Soa AIDS Nederlands.

“Martine was strongly committed to keeping AIDS on the agenda of the European Union, and to putting it on the agenda in Eastern Europe,” reads the page. “Being a mother did not keep her from traveling. Her son was always in her heart.”

Pim-de-kuijer-x633Pim de Kuijer was a parliamentary lobbyist for Stop AIDS Now!, according to an entry written by a friend for The Guardian. That friend, Nabeelah Shabbir, remembers de Kuijer as someone whose concerns for others were paramount to his own.

“My colleague and friend Pim de Kuijer died on his way to an AIDS conference in Melbourne, a journey which typified his concern for others,” Shabbir writes. Shabbir goes on to quote a statement by European Parliament member Lousewies van der Laan:

“Pim believed in understanding between countries, the rule of law and equality for all and fought for his values through his work and his political activities,” Shabbir quotes van der Laan saying. “Let's try to live up to his legacy and work even harder towards a peaceful world.”

Jacqueline-van-tongeren-x633Jacqueline van Tongeren is remembered as Lange’s partner. In a story written by Han Nefkens, he remembers van Tongeren’s sensitive and selfless demeanor. Nefkens remembers her dedicating her personal life to helping others whether giving her time, attention, or energy, and never asking for anything in return.

“Our last contact was a text message that Jacqueline sent me from the plane a few minutes before takeoff,” Nefkens recalls in his article at The World Post. “She told me that she was already looking forward to the tasty Asian snacks that were on the menu. 'I've got to go now, we're leaving’ [she wrote].”

Lucie-van-mens-x633Lucie van Mens worked as the director of program development and support for The Female Health Company. Van Mens dedicated her time with the company to promoting condom usage in Africa through condom programs, according to a statement by The Female Health Company. Van Mens worked with FHC partners in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

“She always made sure that the skills and preferences of our local partners were valued and together with her knowledge and extensive experience in programming, she helped them shape successful strategies to increase access to FC2 female condoms,” reads the release. “She was passionate, determined and committed to making the female condom a tool that every woman at risk of HIV and unintended pregnancy could access.”

Glenn-thomas-x633Glenn Thomas was a media officer for the World Health Organization in Geneva. Prior to working for WHO, Thomas was a journalist for the BBC, according to the BBC. The United Nations held a minute’s silence during a press briefing in Geneva in Thomas' honor.

"He was a much loved and respected colleague and the BBC World News team are reeling from this very sad news about their friend,” Richard Porter, a controller of BBC World News in English, told the BBC. "He was always passionate about telling the stories that mattered and could always turn his hand to whatever was asked — but most importantly he was a genuinely nice man."

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