20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014)


Amidst Sadness, AIDS 2014 to Proceed as Global HIV Community Mourns Lost Leaders

July 18, 2014

A time of much anticipated excitement for the global HIV community has instead become a day of mourning, even as the organizers of the AIDS 2014 conference vow to proceed with the gathering in honor of comrades who lost their lives on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 yesterday.

A statement from the International AIDS Society (IAS), which is the conference host, explains that, "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."

BuzzFeed has gathered photos and memories of AIDS 2014 registrants who were on the flight whose names have been confirmed.

Although there have been widespread reports of as many as 108 conference-goers on the plane, incoming IAS president Chris Beyrer told the Washington Post that the true count may be much lower, explaining that, "We have been working hard to try and confirm how many people were on the flight. We've been speaking to a number of different authorities and we think the actual number is much smaller."

Sean Strub, executive director of the Sero Project, described the scene in Melbourne, and the strength of the HIV community to persevere amidst tragedy:

So many people, like me, arrived in Melbourne Friday morning after having been up for 35 hours or [more]. As we got off the plane we were greeted with the horrific news from the Ukraine.

The line for passport control was subdued, with people checking their phones and speaking softly to each other. It is somber here at the conference, but there is an almost palpable anxiety. That's because while the media is saying there were more than 100 people on the flight who were coming to the conference. Only a handful have been named publicly.

It feels like the entire city of Melbourne is involved with the conference, or at least trying to make delegates feel welcome, even amidst the mourning.

Those of us who have been engaged in AIDS work for many years are more practiced at grief than any human should ever have to become. Its a familiarity that can create coping mechanisms others don't understand, sometimes including an external stoicism.

We learned long ago how to crawl through the rubble of human destruction to carry on, despite the deaths of close friends and allies. That's what we're going to do in the days ahead.

As those at the conference came together in sorrow, constructing memorials to those lost with flowers, candles, and their steadfast commitment to ensuring the conference moves forward, others around the world are online sharing condolences, stories and vows to continue the fight to end the epidemic.

Dutch researcher Joep Lange, former president of the IAS, was the first HIV/AIDS leader whose name was released as a passenger on the flight.

As Albert Wu, professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recalled for CNN, Lange was "'a real hardcore scientist, but on the other hand, he really had the heart of an activist. He was quite bold and a little bit of a troublemaker' ... Lange 'was one of the first people to advocate spreading HIV medications to Africa' ... He said, 'If Coca-Cola can deliver cold beverages to Africa, why can't we deliver HIV medication?' And he helped make it happen."

In a Facebook posting that she agreed to share with, Ellen LaPointe, former executive director of Project Inform, said:

It's impossible to comprehend how much collective knowledge, capacity, and devotion to ending this epidemic we lost in an instant. It is simply incalculable. And of course we mourn the loss of so many dear friends and colleagues we respected and loved. This is a breathtaking loss. But the fact that so many people dedicated to one cause were lost at once does not compound or somehow worsen the tragedy of what happened yesterday, in my view. It merely shines an especially bright light on the immeasurable toll that violence takes on us all, every time and everywhere it happens.

Every act of war and violence deprives of us of immeasurable, unknowable human potential. There are future AIDS researchers, cancer cure finders, climate change stoppers, and world peacemakers growing up everywhere, right now. When we drop bombs and shoot at each other, we are killing a better future with our own hands.

With the conference continuing as planned,'s own editorial director Myles Helfand concluded, "We will do what we always do when we lose people in the fight against HIV: We'll hurt, and we'll mourn, and we'll remember. And we'll keep going, because even if HIV isn't aware of the fact, we've got a war to win against it."

Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for and

Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.

Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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This article was provided by TheBodyPRO. It is a part of the publication The 20th International AIDS Conference.


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