Delegates at AIDS 2014 conference hold memorial for MH17 victims

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Delegates at the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne have paid tribute to the AIDS activists and researchers who died onboard the flight MH17, when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

The plane, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was a connecting flight for many people heading to the conference.

298 people died on the plane in total, including renowned Dutch HIV researcher Dr Joep Lang, AIDS campaigner Pim de Kuijer, WHO member Glenn Thomas, and many other AIDS activists.

The conference opened with Dutch ambassador for sexual health and HIV rights, Lambert Grijns, paying respects to those who died in the crash.

He said: “We owe a great debt to the activists and researchers who were lost on MH17. Their work continues to give us hope.”

A minute’s silence was held for the victims, with 11 former and current presidents of the International AIDS Society onstage together with representatives from other organisations who lost colleagues, including as the World Health Organization, AIDS Fonds, Stop AIDS Now, The Female Health Company, the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development and members of the Dutch HIV research community.

UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe gave a speech memorialising his “friend and mentor” Dr Joep Lange — who perished on the flight — naming Dr Lange his inspiration in the global fight against HIV and AIDS worldwide.

Messages from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon were also played at the opening.

International AIDS Society president-elect Chris Beyrer told press that the conference would continue to go ahead as planned, despite the tragedy.

He said: “As we all know, it has been a long and very emotional 48 hours, but I think that I can speak for all of my colleagues here when I say that we are ready and determined to make this conference the huge success it deserves to be.”

Thanks to the Star Observer for providing coverage of AIDS 2014.