Late last night, a terrific HIV vaccine researcher, Wayne Koff, sent me a quick note, indicating Joep Lange perished aboard the jet senselessly shot down over Ukraine. I reeled. Joep was one of the group of "Young Turks" from Amsterdam, amazing AIDS researchers that in the 1990s led the way to our modern treatment era.
This morning's news is still uncertain, but it seems Lange was on board along with some 100 of his Dutch compatriots, and many of the passengers shared an ultimate destination – the twentieth International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Some probably highly premature news accounts indicate a third of those shot out of the sky were en route to the conference. One additional has been confirmed – Glenn Thomas, AIDS specialist in the World Health Organization communications office.
There was a time when we convened in these meetings and whispered the names of friends, colleagues, and loved ones that wouldn't be coming this year because they died of AIDS. In our gatherings in the 1980s, grief hung like a curtain over everything, alongside anger over the way governments were responding, the lack of funding, the stigma, and so many other aspects of what it was like to live in the World of AIDS before there was treatment. We fought through the mourning to get the job done, whatever that job might be: activist protesting, scientific investigation, fundraising, even journalism. The great oratory leader of the early AIDS fight Jonathan Mann would whip us into a fever of determination to stop discrimination against people with AIDS, fight for research funding, and find a cure for the devastating disease. Jonathan, who started the first global AIDS program at WHO, was the early pandemic cheerleader, pushing everybody forward, encouraging teams of scientists to work together in ways biologists and clinicians never previously had, for any disease struggle.