6 AIDS Activists Died On Flight MH17. Here's How We Can Keep Their Work Alive

Jul 18, 2014 | Updated Sep 18, 2014

Six AIDS medical researchers, health workers and activists headed to a health conference in Australia were killed on Thursday's Malaysia Airlines crash, the Age reported. And experts say we may never even know the full magnitude of the loss.

"What if the cure for AIDS was on that plane? Really? We don't know," HIV researcher Trevor Stratton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

As the AIDS community begins to mourn some of its leading luminaries who died on Flight MH17, it remains resolute in its mission to honor on their work. The 20th International AIDS Conference, the event to which the esteemed activists were headed via a connecting flight, is continuing its scheduled programming, according to the organization website.

Experts are also confident that the AIDS community, though deeply affected, will move forward in a stronger way than before.

"[The AIDS community] will unite and this will galvanize people to strive harder to find a breakthrough,” Professor Richard Boyd, director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories, told the Guardian. “Let's hope that, out of this madness, there will be new hope for the world."

For now, we can honor the work of the AIDS activists we lost by continuing to support the organizations to which they were committed.

AIDS pioneer Joep Lange -- who played a critical role in antiretroviral therapy trials and in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, according to his bio -- died on flight MH17.

Among his many leadership roles, Lange served as president of the International AIDS Society, the world’s leading independent association of HIV professionals, from 2002 to 2004, according to the Australian. The organization is the official host of the International AIDS Conference and by providing such critical platforms for new research, the organization continuously works to improve the global response to HIV.

Find out more about the International AIDS Society here and the International AIDS Conference here.

A lifelong advocate for the treatment of HIV and AIDS in Africa, Lange also founded the PharmAccess Foundation in 2001, a nonprofit that brings affordable quality health care to the region and has earned international accolades. President Obama presented the organization with a G20 prize for its innovative healthcare financing model.

The organization announced that it’s "devastated" over the loss of its founder, -- and his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, who was also aboard Flight MH17. She used her previous experience as an HIV-AIDS nurse, according to the University of Amsterdam where Lange served as a professor of infectious diseases, to contribute to a number of her partner's initiatives, one of which being PharmaAccess.

Find out more about the PharmAccess Foundation here.

A dogged advocate for improved access to female condoms, Lucie van Mens also lost her life on the Malaysian flight headed to Kuala Lumpur.

Since 2011, Mens served as the director of program development and support for the Female Health Company (FHC), which markets and sells the FC2 female condom -- the only product of its kind approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.

But Mens’ advocacy work long predated her appointment at the Female Health Company.

Prior to joining FHC, Mens worked in the role of coordinator at Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC), according to PR Newswire. Through providing female condoms to women in need, the organization aims to promote gender equality and decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, maternal deaths and sexually transmitted infections.

Find out more about Universal Access to Female Condoms here.

Glenn Thomas, a Geneva-based spokesman for the World Health Organization who had been with the group for more than 10 years, was also aboard the flight.

Thomas specialized in the big infectious diseases -- AIDS, TB and malaria -- and the WHO tweeted that "no words can describe how broken our hearts are."

To help continue the efforts of Thomas’ life work, consider getting involved with UNAIDS, which unites the efforts of 11 U.N. organizations, including WHO, and is working toward a world with zero HIV infections, discrimination and AIDS-related deaths.

Find out more about UNAIDS here.

Pim de Kuijer, a lobbyist for STOP AIDS NOW! -- a Dutch organization that helps people with AIDS in developing countries -- died on Flight MH17.

Friends say that de Kuijer was committed to using his work to make the world a better place.

"Pim believed in understanding between countries, the rule of law and equality for all and fought for his values through his work and his political activities," Lousewies van der Laan, Dutch politician and de Kuijer’s former employer, said in a statement released to the Guardian. "Let's try to live up to his legacy and work even harder towards a peaceful world."

Find out more about STOP AIDS NOW! here.

Martine de Schutter, program manager at Bridging the Gaps -- a nonprofit that supports the health rights of people who use drugs, the LGBT community and sex workers -- was killed while headed to the International AIDS Conference, according to the organization's website.

De Schutter started her role at Bridging the Gaps in January while at the height of a storied career in international AIDS advocacy. For 10 years, she served as executive coordinator of AIDS Action Europe.

When de Schutter joined Bridging the Gaps in January she said she was "really excited" to make a "difference in the lives of key populations around the world!"

Find out more about Bridging the Gap’s mission here.

CORRECTION: Based off of an erroneous report from the Age, an earlier version of this story stated that an estimated 100 AIDS activists died on Flight MH17. Six activists were killed in the crash.

Also on HuffPost:

  • Karlijn Keijzer
    Indiana University
    Karlijn Keijzer was a 25-year-old doctoral student in the chemistry department at the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences. “On behalf of the entire Indiana University community, I want to express my deepest sympathies to Karlijn’s family and friends over her tragic death,” Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie said in a statement. “Karlijn was an outstanding student and a talented athlete, and her passing is a loss to the campus and the university. Our hearts also go out to the families of all the victims of this senseless act.”
  • John, Yuli, Arjuna and Sri Paulissen
    Widi Yuwono, the brother of Yuli Hastini, right, shows her sister's family portrait with her Dutch husband John Paulissen and their two children Arjuna and Sri who were on board of the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight 17, at his residence in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, Friday, July 18, 2014. The Malaysian jetliner that went down in war-torn Ukraine did not make any distress call, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Friday, adding that its flight route had been declared safe by the global civil aviation body.
  • Wayan Sujana
    Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
    A photograph of Indonesian man Wayan Sujana of Bali, believed to be missing on Air Malaysia flight MH17, is fixed to the ticketing desk of Air Malaysia at Schiphol Airport on July 18, 2014 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
  • Joep Lange
    Peter Lowie/AMC/AP
    In this October 2008 photo provided by AMC Amsterdam on Friday, July 18, 2014, former president of the International AIDS Society Joep Lange is seen. A large number of world-renowned AIDS researchers and activists heading to an international AIDS conference in Australia were on board a Malaysian jetliner that was shot down over Ukraine, officials said Friday, as news of their deaths sparked an outpouring of grief across the global scientific community. Among them was Joep Lange, a well-known researcher from the Netherlands . (Peter Lowie/AMC/AP)
  • Glenn Thomas
    WHO / AP
    An undated photo made available Friday, July 18, 2014, by the World Health Organization of Glenn Thomas, 49, a media officer at the WHO in Geneva, who died on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which was shot down over the Ukraine Thursday as it traveled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. (AP Photo/WHO)
  • Hendry Se
    Family of Hendry Se/AFP/Getty Images
    This handout photograph released on July 18, 2014 by the family of Hendry Se, an Indonesian passenger on the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, shows Henrdy at her graduation. (Family of Hendry Se/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Quinn Schansman
    Dutch-American student Quinn Lucas Schansman was reportedly on his way to a family vacation in Malaysia.
  • Nick Norris
    Nick Norris from Perth, Australia, was on board with three of his grandchildren.
  • Ninik Yuriani
    Handout / AFP / Getty Images
  • Sister Philomene Tiernan
    Kincoppal-Rose Bay School
  • Mary Menke and Gerry Menke
    East Gippsland Business Awards
  • Frankie Davison and Liam Davison
    Toorak College
  • Susan Horder
  • Howard Horder
  • Jill Guard
  • Roger Guard
  • Liliane Derden
  • Elaine Teoh
  • Emiel Mahler
  • Wan Amran Wan Husin
  • Mo, Otis and Evie Maslin
  • Liam Sweeney
  • Emma Bell
  • Shazana Salleh
  • Angeline Premila
  • Albert Rizk
  • Helene Sidelik
  • Pim de Kuijer
  • Martine de Schutter