Health News of 2014-07-22

International AIDS confab opens in Melbourne

The 20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) in Melbourne, Australia, took off yesterday on a solemn note following the announcement that at least six delegates travelling to Melbourne for the conference were among passengers killed on board the Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17.

Those killed included the former President of the International AIDS Society (IAS), Mr Joep Lange. The organisers of the conference paid tribute to the six, described as "personalities dedicated to the fight against HIV".

Before the opening ceremony, the President of the IAS, Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, told journalists at a press briefing that "the extent of our loss is hard to comprehend or express."

"We grieve alongside all those throughout the world who have lost friends and family in this senseless tragedy.

"We will honour their commitment and keep them in our hearts as we begin our programme," Professor Barre-Sinoussi told the journalists.

During the opening ceremony, the Co-Chair of the AIDS 2014 Conference, Professor Sharon Lewin, said it was "with great shock and sadness" that she paid her respects "to our colleagues, friends and loved ones who passed away in the MH17 tragedy".

"I was a friend and a great admirer of both Joep Lang and Jaqueline van Tongeren and know they would want us all to continue the great work they were both so passionate about, and that is seeing an end to HIV," Professor Lewin said.

In a letter read on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of The Netherlands, Ms Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV and AIDS, Mr Lambert Grijns, said, “It is with heavy heart that I take the floor here today."

"Six of the victims were heading for Melbourne and they leave a huge void in this conference," Mr Grijns said recalling that Dr Lange was instrumental in the design of the prevention of the mother-child transmission therapy.

In a televised message, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, described the plane crash as "a terrible and senseless loss. I pay my highest condolences to all those who could not complete their journey to Melbourne".

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