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Gone with plane: likely ‘cure for AIDS’

July 18: Several prominent experts on HIV on way to an international conference on AIDS in Melbourne were among the passengers killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash.

The International AIDS Society (IAS) said today it had learnt that several colleagues and friends headed to the 20th International AIDS Conference, which will open on Sunday, were on board.

They included Joep Lange, a professor of medicine at the University of Amsterdam and a pioneer in HIV research, and his partner Jacqueline.

Also on the flight was an employee of the World Health Organisation’s communications department, Glenn Thomas, who too was on way to Melbourne.

“The Melbourne conference will now be a meeting in mourning,” said Janak Maniar, an infectious disease and HIV medicine consultant at Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, who is scheduled to attend the meeting. The event is slated to feature Bill Clinton among its keynote speakers and expects 12,000 participants.

Lange was a former president of the International AIDS Society and was expected to talk about how developing, resource-restricted countries could tailor effective anti-viral therapies for their HIV-infected patients. “I was particularly keen to listen to him,” Maniar told The Telegraph. “He was a pioneer in HIV medicine and helped shape policies aimed at curbing the spread of HIV.”

The IAS said in a statement today “in recognition of our colleagues’ dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost”.

In a Twitter message, UNAIDS executive director Michael Sidibe, who is already in Melbourne, said: “My thoughts & prayers to families of those tragically lost on flight MH17. Many passengers were enroute to #AIDS2014 here in #Melbourne.”

The WHO’s Thomas, who had been with the organisation for more than a decade, was its only employee on the plane. In a statement today, the WHO quoted Thomas’s twin sister Tracey as saying that “he died doing what he loved”.

Lange, the Dutch AIDS pioneer, had worked on HIV research since 1983, contributing to the development of affordable anti-HIV treatments, particularly combination therapies that help keep HIV-infected patients alive.

“The cure for AIDS may have been on that plane, we just don’t know,” Trevor Stratton, an HIV/AIDS consultant who was attending a pre-event in Sydney, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “You can’t just help but wonder about the kind of expertise on that plane.”