International AIDS Conference 2014 Mourns Its MH17 Victims In Emotional Opening Ceremony

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Monday marks the start of the grief-stricken AIDS 2014 symposium in Melbourne, Australia. The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 killed several AIDS researchers and who were en route to the event, and an emotional opening ceremony Sunday night, those in attendance at the Melbourne Convention Center honored their slain colleagues in a memorial at the conference's outset. It began with a minute of silence, ushered in by International AIDS Society president Françoise Barre-Sinoussi.

The international AIDS community suffered a staggering blow when MH17 went down, and it comes as no surprise that the conference's organizers planned a preliminary event in remembrance. The victims, among the 298 people total killed on MH17, were prominent members of this global health effort who'll be sorely missed. Some of those victims, as detailed by Vox:

  • Joep Lange, an enormous figure in the history of clinical AIDS research who was serving as the HIV Netherlands Australia Research Collaboration's co-director, and formerly held Barre-Sinoussi's current job as International Aids Society president.
  • Jacqueline van Tongeren, of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development.
  • Glenn Thomas, spokesman for the World Health Organization.
  • Maria Adriana de Schutter and Lucie van Mens of AIDS Action Europe.
  • Pim de Kuijer, an HIV lobbyist with STOP AIDS NOW!

It's not guaranteed that these six were the only conference attendees aboard MH17, however. Early reports from Australian media suggested the plane was carrying over 100 attendees to the conference, but only six have actually been confirmed.

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After the minute of silence, Barre-Sinoussi told the crowd, according to The Guardian:

The extent of the loss of our colleagues and friends is still hard for me to comprehend or express. We grieve alongside all of those throughout the world who have lost friends and family in this senseless tragedy. But we strongly believe that all of us being here for the next week to discuss to debate, and to learn is indeed what our colleagues who are no longer with us would have wanted. We dedicate AIDS 2014 to them.
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While Barre-Sinoussi focused on addressing the victims, Michael Kirby struck a slightly harder tone. Formerly a Justice of the High Court of Austalia, Kirby was charged with giving the Jonathan Mann memorial lecture, in memory of a prominent doctor and AIDS activist who died in a plane crash in 1998. With a sense of the obvious, disastrous parallels, Kirby voiced some of the anger, too.

When I was asked to give this opening plenary weeks ago I little thought that the plane crash that caused those deaths would be multiplied and magnified, this time by deliberate conduct of human beings. That it would kill delegates to our conference, and many other peaceful travelers, going about their lives with no harm in their hearts to others. How cruel and self-centered these murders appear to be. How reckless and outrageous to make such means available to zealots. How much more pain do we have to face in the world of AIDS before we are through this bleak experience.

Kirby himself had flown out to the conference from Amsterdam a few days prior to MH17's departure, according to USA Today, avoiding the fate of his colleagues.

Image: Scott Creswell/Flickr