We still have no confirmation of the exact number of AIDS2014 delegates lost in the destruction of MH17, but this Vox.com report tells us more about the response: Deaths of HIV researchers on MH17 "an incalculable loss in every sense". Excerpt:
British-born World Health Organization staffer Glenn Thomas was among the dead. He was a media relations specialist for the UN based in Geneva, and a former journalist.
Dr. Rachel Baggaley, of the HIV Department at the WHO, had just landed in Melbourne when she heard about the news. "I'm just devastated," she said. "He's a very close colleague whom I work with on a daily basis." She added: "He just had his birthday. He was going to plan all sorts of celebrations."
Several WHO staffers were on flights to the conference, but Thomas was the only one on MH17, according to a WHO statement.
Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter—prominent activists who worked for Dutch HIV organizations—were also on the felled plane.
De Schutter had worked and lived in Argentina, Bolivia and the United States, according to her LinkedIn profile, where she wrote, "Throughout my (professional) life I hope to contribute to making the world a better place to live, work and love."
"It is incomprehensible that they're no longer here," Stop AIDS Now Executive Director Louise van Deth told the Washington Post. "It is a heavy blow that people who have been so active for so long in the fight against AIDS have been wiped out."
"Every human life is precious," global health researcher Dr. Peter Singer wrote to Vox, "but when we lose those dedicated to saving lives we suffer a double loss."
The conference will go on
The most recent statement from the International AIDS Society, convenors of AIDS 2014, said the organization was "continuing to work with the authorities to clarify how the tragic loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 impacts our conference delegates, our conference partners, and our community as a whole."
"In recognition of our colleagues' dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost."
Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winner researcher and journalist who has written about infectious diseases including AIDS, told Vox that the HIV/AIDS community is used to dealing with death. "I would say if there's any scientific community that is resilient in the face of death, it's this one."
"This is a community that has dealt with death profoundly since the discovery of the virus," she said over the phone. Of the pre-antiretroviral days, she added, "We have known meeting after meeting when we arrive some of our colleagues would not be there to join us because they would have died of AIDS."
Still, she noted that some of the younger conference participants may not remember the early days of AIDS. "I am not in the Melbourne meeting, and I'm glad of it. When it opens on Monday, it will be a mass funeral. It will be difficult for a lot of people to shake off the shock and sadness. But I believe very much this is a community that is determined and dedicated, and they will succeed."