AIDS conference attendees remember 6 who died on MH17
MELBOURNE, Australia — Organizers and attendees at the world's largest AIDS conference said six colleagues who died in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 would want them to continue the fight against this deadly disease.
The six delegates, who died Thursday, were to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference here. Noted AIDS researcher Joep Lange, an internist and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Amsterdam, was among those who died. They were remembered during the opening ceremony Sunday.
"This is not a time for silence," said Michael Kirby, former judge of the High Court of Australia. "They would expect us to pick up our shattered spirits. They would demand that we renew and redouble our efforts."
Kirby spoke of his friends and noted he had left Amsterdam only days earlier on another flight. He delivered the Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture, named after the first director of the Global Program on AIDS of the World Health Organization, who was killed in a plane crash in 1998 en route to another AIDS conference.
Hundreds gathered for the opening ceremony on a cold night in Melbourne prior to the official opening Monday morning. Twelve thousand delegates from 200 nations make up the week-long conference, the largest AIDS conference in the world.
The conference paid tribute with a minute of silence and a number of speeches, including a video from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Dutch ambassador for HIV/AIDS, Lambert Grijns, also made a speech, noting that five of the six dead delegates were Dutch nationals.
Several of those speaking, such as International AIDS Society president Francoise Barré-Sinoussi, became emotional as they spoke of their lost colleagues and friends. However despite the sadness many obviously felt, organizers said it was important that the event was a tribute to those lost and that if anything their fight against AIDS would be redoubled in light of tragedy.
At a press conference prior to the opening ceremony, International AIDS Society president-elect (who will take over the presidency from Barré-Sinoussi at the end of the conference) Chris Beyrer said it had been a "long and very emotional 48 hours ... (We are) ready and determined to make it a success."
United Nations AIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé pledged that the world would, with work, have conquered the AIDS epidemic by 2030 and noted that there had been "extraordinary progress since Washington (conference in 2012). More has been done in the last three years than the last 25 years ... 5.6 million more are receiving treatment."
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