Indian experts in HIV research readying to leave for the International AIDS Society conference in Melbourne were in shock at the death of their colleagues on board MH17. Unconfirmed reports said over 100 participants in the conference beginning on Sunday had been killed, including the eminent Dutch researcher Dr Joep Lange, and WHO spokesperson Glenn Thomas.
Mumbai-based Dr Ishwar Gilada, president of the AIDS Society of India, said the “HIV world appeared to be jinxed”, and recalled that another giant of the field, Dr Jonathan Mann, too had been killed in an airplane disaster in 1998.
“It breaks my heart to have lost two close friends so tragically,” Dr Gilada said. “I’ve worked closely with Dr Lange, I feel numbed at the news of his death, he has five daughters, may God give them strength.”
Dr Gilada is scheduled to fly Air India to Melbourne on Saturday.
Bobby Ramakant, the Lucknow-based writer for Citizens News Service, told The Indian Express in an email: “My personal and professional friend, Glenn Thomas, WHO Media Advisor in Geneva, was on this flight. Glenn has contributed tremendously in strengthening communications around a range of issues, particularly tuberculosis. This is a huge irreparable loss for me.”
Ramakant, who is already in Melbourne for the conference, said speakers like Nobel prize winning researcher Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi had expressed deep sorrow over the loss of professional colleagues.
In a release issued to the media, Barre-Sinoussi, who is also the president of the International AIDS Society, said, “We are all with our phones waiting for confirmation and hoping that it cannot be confirmed.”
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, director of Chennai’s National Institute of Research in TB, said, “I am dreading going to Melbourne. I simply do not want to find out how many more scientists and co-researchers have died. This is so shocking. I knew Dr Joep Lange personally.”
Swaminathan is headed to the July 20-25 conference along with 100 other scientists, officials and activists from India. He is scheduled to board a Malaysia Airlines flight on Saturday.