AIDS leading researcher dies in aerial crash

AIDS leading

Dr. Joep Lange, one of the world’s preeminent AIDS researchers, was onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that was shot down over Ukraine yesterday. All 283 passengers -including Lange and wife Jacqueline van Tongeren- and 15 crew members perished after the aircraft was hit with a Buk surface-to-air missile and crashed near a village north of the city of Torez in eastern Ukraine. The president of Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist rebels have exchanged the blame. On the other hand, a U.S. official said “all roads lead to the Russians to some degree,” while Vladimir Putin holds “the country in whose airspace the plane was in when it crashed” responsible.

Regardless of whom was it that shot the plane down -and the questionable decision of flying over the Donbass insurgency conflict zone- the fact is that the AIDS community is grieving the loss of not only Lange -described by London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine director Peter Piot as “one of the most creative AIDS researchers, a humanist, and tireless organizer, dedicated to his patients and to defeating AIDS in the poorest countries”- but also that of as many as 100 people on their way to Melbourne for the Lange-organized 20th International AIDS Conference, among them “some of the finest academics, health-care workers and activists in the AIDS response” according to UNAIDS.

Born Joseph Marie Albert Lange in 1954, Joep Lange received his M.D. and his PhD from the University of Amsterdam in 1981 and 1987, respectively. His 30-year career in the field of HIV/AIDS research and prevention included such milestones as championing antiretroviral combination therapy as opposed to monotherapy, discovering that transmission of HIV from mother to baby drops to less than 1% if they are given antiretroviral drugs during nursing, serving as president of the International AIDS Society from 2002 to 2004, and founding non-profit organization PharmAccess Foundation.

Lange has been called a pioneer, a giant, an activist, and an advocate by many of his fellow researchers, who all agree that he was adamant about making AIDS treatment accessible to all who needed it, in the form of affordable therapies to be used in the third world and developing countries. As far as his personality was concerned, he has been described as a heart of gold and a joy to work with. In addition to mourning his death, everyone who is involved with AIDS in any way must fear right now that investigation in the field might be setback. After all, Dr. Lange not only pushed the scientific boundaries of research, but he helped break social barriers as well.

Joep, wherever you are, we only wish that the report of your death was an exaggeration. 

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