July 21 (GIN)—The AIDS activist community shared a moment of silence this week in remembrance of the six leaders in AIDS research who perished last week in an aircraft explosion. Among the dead was Joep Lange, a leading expert in the field of medicinal AIDS therapy and once called “the father of AIDS research in developing countries.”
A former head of the International AIDS Society and executive scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, Lange advocated for patients in Africa to gain improved access to effective drugs. At the 2002 AIDS summit in Barcelona, he said, “If we can deliver cold Coca-Cola and beer to the most remote regions in Africa, it shouldn’t be impossible to do the same with drugs.” To this end, he founded the PharmAccess Foundation in 2001 to improve patients’ access to AIDS medicine.
The Foundation was among the first to initiate HIV treatment programs in sub-Saharan Africa. In turn, PharmAccess created the Health Insurance Fund, giving subsidized health insurance to more than 100,000 people in Nigeria, Tanzania and Kenya.
Lange was one of the 283 passengers and 15-member crew aboard Flight MH17 when it blew up in the air over eastern Ukraine Thursday.
In the mid-1990s, Lange began helping deliver drugs to low-income communities in places such as Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania. He obtained help from Dutch companies, including Heineken International and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, for financial backing. His projects became models for large-scale rollouts of drugs across Africa by the World Health Organization and other organizations.
“We absolutely need dedicated researchers like Joep Lange to find a way forward,” said Marcus Low of the Treatment Action Campaign in Cape Town. “They don’t just sit in a lab, which is important, but also work to ensure we have the information, supplies and the money to buy the medicines.”
Among other friends of Africa reported killed in the crash was Lucie van Mens. “She advocated the cause of sex workers at a time when few other were doing so,” said Lambert Grijns, Dutch ambassador for sexual and reproductive health.
“She was a tireless pioneer in advocating for women’s access to female condoms as dual protection to prevent HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy,” said Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity.
Some 12,000 participants from around the world are in Melbourne this week for AIDS 2014, whose theme is “Stepping Up the Pace.” Former President Bill Clinton is listed as a speaker.
During the five days of the conference, delegates will discuss the latest research developments and will hear from world-renowned experts.
“More than ever before, there is hope that ending AIDS is possible. However, a business-as-usual approach or simply sustaining the AIDS response at its current pace cannot end the epidemic,” UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS, said in its report.
“The AIDS epidemic can be ended in every region, every country, in every location, in every population and every community,” Michel Sidibe, the director of UNAIDS, said in the report. “There are multiple reasons why there is hope and conviction about this goal.”
The conference ends Friday, July 25. The program can be viewed at www.aids2014.org.