MELBOURNE, Australia — A moment of silence marked the opening of the 20th International AIDS Conference as delegates were asked to remember colleagues who lost their lives when Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.
"I would love to be telling you that we were opening this conference in happier times," Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, MD, president of the International Aids Society (IAS), told delegates here.
At least 6 delegates were among the 298 people who died when MH 17 crashed in rural Ukraine.
Among the victims were former IAS president Joep Lange, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, and his partner and collaborator Jacqueline van Tongeren.
Dr. Lange, who worked in AIDS research and treatment since 1983, made important contributions to the treatment of HIV infection, including the use of antiretroviral therapy to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
During the commemoration, 11 former, current, or future presidents of the IAS stood on stage alongside representatives from all of the organizations with members among the lost, including Aids Fonds, the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, the Female Health Company, STOP AIDS NOW!, and the World Health Organization.
Members of the Dutch HIV research community were also present.
Lambert Grijns, the Dutch ambassador for sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV/AIDs, read a letter of condolence to provide additional support.
"The extent of the loss of our colleagues and friends is still hard for me to comprehend or express," Dr. Barré-Sinoussi said.
"I strongly believe that us being here for the next week to discuss, to debate, and to learn is what our colleagues who are no longer with us would have wanted. We dedicate AIDS 2014 to them."
In addition to Dr. Lange and van Tongeren, confirmed passengers on board flight MH 17 are Pim de Kuijer, a lobbyist from Aids Fonds/STOP AIDS NOW!; Lucie van Mens, director of support at the Female Health Company; Martine de Schutter, program manager at Aids Fonds/STOP AIDS NOW!; and Glenn Thomas, from the World Health Organization.
Condolence books were set out and will continue to circulate for the duration of the meeting.
A candlelight vigil will be held in Federation Square in the center of Melbourne on the evening of July 22.
"We are ready and determined to make this conference the huge success it deserves to be," Chris Beyrer, MD, IAS president-elect, said during a news conference. "We have an outstanding program that we are confident will produce global headlines in the days to come."
"In a strange way, the terrible event that has happened has strengthened the resolve of those who are meeting here in Melbourne to ensure that we address the ongoing issues of HIV and AIDS and that we bring an end to this fearsome epidemic, learn its lessons, and take them into other areas of healthcare," added Michael Kirby, former justice of the High Court of Australia and one of Australia's foremost jurists and human rights advocates.
Some 12,000 delegates from around the world are expected to attend AIDS 2014.
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