* Dozens of AIDS experts feared killed in downed airliner
* Joep Lange, dedicated AIDS fighter, mourned by peers
* UNAIDS director says AIDS response suffers great loss
* WHO mourns loss of staffer with "passion for public
(Adds fresh comment, details)
By Sonali Paul and Robin Emmott
MELBOURNE/AMSTERDAM, July 18 The world of AIDS
research was in shock on Friday after dozens of leading HIV
experts were feared killed when a Malaysian plane was shot down
over Ukraine, in a setback for the global campaign against the
Among them was Joep Lange, who researched the condition for
more than 30 years and was considered a giant in the field,
admired for his tireless advocacy for access to affordable AIDS
drugs for HIV positive patients living in poor countries.
"Global health and the AIDS response have lost one of their
great leaders," Peter Piot, director of the London School of
Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a former executive director of
UNAIDS, told Reuters in London.
"Joep Lange was one of the most creative AIDS researchers, a
humanist, and tireless organiser, dedicated to his patients and
to defeating AIDS in the poorest countries."
The United Nations AIDS program, UNAIDS, said it feared
"some of the finest academics, health-care workers and activists
in the AIDS response may have perished" on the plane.
"Professor Lange was a leading light in the field since the
early days of HIV and worked unceasingly to widen access to
antiretroviral medicines around the world," it said.
As many as 100 people heading to the AIDS 2014 conference in
Melbourne were on the doomed flight, Fairfax Media reported,
including Lange, a former president of the International AIDS
Society (IAS) which organises the event.
"The UNAIDS family is in deep shock...The deaths of so many
committed people working against HIV will be a great loss for
the AIDS response," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of
The conference, due to start on Sunday, features former U.S.
President Bill Clinton among its keynote speakers and is
expecting around 12,000 participants.
The IAS said it was still working with authorities to
confirm the number of delegates on the flight and would go ahead
with the conference as planned.
Peers paid tribute to Lange, a Dutch professor of medicine
at the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam.
The Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was en route from
Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down on Thursday by a
surface-to-air missile in an area of eastern Ukraine where
Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting government forces.
Lange pioneered access to key AIDS medicines in poor
countries, including combination drugs to control HIV and
antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of the virus
from mothers to their babies.
Robin Weiss, a professor of viral oncology at University
College London, compared Lange to Jonathan Mann, a key figure in
the early fight against HIV/AIDS who was killed along with his
wife and fellow AIDS researcher Mary Lou Clements-Mann on a
Swissair flight to Geneva in 1998.
"Not since the loss of Jonathan Mann and his wife...has the
HIV/AIDS research community suffered such a great loss," he
Weiss added that while the HIV/AIDS movement as a whole may
be weakened by the loss of so many activists and specialists,
scientific progress would continue.
"It's a very sad loss, but the momentum will carry on," he
Lange's colleague Jaap Goudsmit described his co-worker and
friend as a great activist and fighter for the cause.
"He was there from the beginning, from...when we were seeing
young people dying very fast and no one knew why," he said.
"He was a fighter for getting treatment to everyone who
needed it and as early as possible to lower the spread of
infection. His clinical contribution was enormous."
The World Health Organization (WHO) said media spokesman
Glenn Thomas was among those on board Flight MH17.
Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, said Thomas had been with
the organisation for more than a decade and "will be remembered
for his ready laugh and passion for public health."
"He will be greatly missed by those who had the opportunity
to know him and work with him. He leaves behind his partner
Claudio and his twin sister Tracey."
Thomas, a British national, was in charge of promoting the
WHO's report issued last week that said five key groups
including gay men had stubbornly high rates of HIV.
(Writing and reporting by Kate Kelland in LONDON and Stephanie
Nebehay in GENEVA, additional reporting by and Jane Wardell and
Lincoln Feast in SYDNEY.; Editing by Mike Collett-White and