MELBOURNE, July 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Delegates
at a global AIDS conference vowed on Saturday to renew efforts
to end the deadly disease in honour of the commitment of
colleagues killed when a Malaysian Airlines plane came down over
The Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was en
route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was apparently
brought down by a surface-to-air missile on Thursday in an area
of eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting
At least six people on the flight, including Joep Lange, a
leading light in the field of AIDS research, were heading to the
AIDS 2014 Conference in Melbourne, according to the
International AIDS Society (IAS) which organises the event.
The number was much lower than earlier feared, with some
initial reports indicating as many as 100 delegates had lost
their lives on the flight.
Lange's partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, who worked for the
Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, was also
killed along with two members of the AIDS Action Europe
organisation, a campaigner for STOP AIDS NOW! and Glenn Thomas,
a spokesman for the World Health Organisation.
"This is a moment of deep sadness for the world," IAS
President Francoise Barre-Sinoussi told reporters outside the
convention centre where the conference is due to open on Sunday.
"The extent of our loss is hard to comprehend and express.
Our colleagues were travelling because of their dedication to
bringing an end to AIDS. We will honour their commitment and
keep them in our hearts as we begin our programme on Sunday."
Barre-Sinoussi, who won a Nobel prize for her part in
identifying the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), said there
would be a moment of silence during the opening ceremony to
remember those who had died.
Tables had also been set up with condolence books for any of
the 12,000 expected participants to sign.
Barre-Sinoussi said it was too early to say what impact the
loss would have on AIDS research, but said colleagues should
work together as a tribute to those who had died.
Inside the conference centre, delegates who had travelled
from around the world expressed their shock.
Karen Hawke, an Australian PhD student presenting a paper on
HIV drug resistance, said she could not believe what had
"It's taken a lot of excitement out of coming here and
hearing about the new research," she said, as she scoured the
Internet for information on the identities of passengers on the
Clive Ingleby, a British global adviser for health and HIV
at the Voluntary Services Overseas, said he expected the
conference to "sombre and reflective".
But he believed the deaths would rally the AIDS community.
"The AIDS movement is a resilient movement. Even though
there's deep shock and grief, people will pull together and want
to come back stronger. We'll come out of this with a renewed
sense of purpose if only to honour the people we've lost," he
(Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson
Reuters, covers underreported humanitarian, human rights,
corruption and climate change issues. Visit www.trust.org)
(Editing by Lincoln Feast and Robert Birsel)