By Rachael Rettner and Bahar Gholipour
The HIV/AIDS research community expressed sadness today over the loss of prominent AIDS researchers and activists who were aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, saying that the tragedy could also be a setback for research in the field.
The flight, which was carrying nearly 300 passengers from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was brought down yesterday (July 17) by a surface-to-air missile while flying over an area of conflict between Ukraine and Russia, according to U.S. government officials. At least several of the passengers on the flight were believed to be headed to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
So far, conference organizers say they have confirmed that seven AIDS researchers and activists were among the victims, according to The Washington Post. Among the victims was Dr. Joep Lange, from the Department of Global Health at the University of Amsterdam, whose colleagues call him a pioneer in the field.
“The loss of any one of these HIV/AIDS scholars and researchers is tragic; if a number of them perished, the rate of discovery about HIV may slow while these research programs are reconstituted,” said Dr. David Rosenthal, medical director of the Center for Young Adult, Adolescent and Pediatric HIV at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.
Dr. David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York, said the passing of the HIV researchers “is not only tragic but also devastating to the field, for they are valued colleagues in the struggle against HIV.” Ho said Lange was a friend for more than 25 years, as well as an important leader and a tireless advocate for people afflicted by the AIDS pandemic.
Lange was among the key researchers behind several clinical trials that established the efficacy of antiviral treatment for people with HIV/AIDS. He also studied the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus, and was an early advocate of bringing HIV medications to the developing world.
In the 1990s, when researchers were looking into antiretroviral drugs to curb the virus, Lange was an advocate for the use of combination therapies, in which multiple antiretroviral are used. The cocktail of drugs, which is used today, reduces the risk that the virus will develop drug resistance. He also argued that treatment should be tested in the early course of the disease, rather than in people with advanced HIV.