Health experts 'unsettled' after learning top AIDS experts died in Malaysian plane crash

 Unsettled.

That’s what Kelly Curran, Jhpiego’s director of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Diseases, felt as she arrived in Australia and learned that 100 AIDS researchers had been killed on Malaysia flight 17.

She then made sure the rest of her colleagues who were traveling from both Baltimore and Africa were accounted for.

Jhpiego, the Baltimore-based global health nonprofit sent 19 employees to the International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

It’s the same conference the researchers on the Malaysia flight were heading to. All were accounted for or en route to the conference

In the wake of the crash, local medical experts say the loss of those researchers will have a huge impact on the advancement of AIDS research.

Curran, who arrived in Melbourne Thursday, said organizers are still shocked by the news and are planning a memorial.

“We are all in shock, deeply saddened,” she said. “True luminaries have been lost, but it will encourage us to work harder for the AIDS initiative.”

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, crashed Thursday with 298 people on board. American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought down the aircraft, but it was not yet clear who fired it.

Dr. William Blattner, associate director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine said the loss of those researchers would be felt around the world since AIDS research is a field that evokes world collaboration.

“The global response to HIV is a multi-dimensional activity,” he said. “Each person on that flight was making an impact in their own way.”

Blattner said the best way to honor their memory is to continue to work for a cure, in each person’s own way.

He added that conferences, like the one in Australia, are important, because they bring together both researchers and activists in the AIDS field.

Thanks to an “open dialogue,” Blattner said the University of Maryland has helped launch many global initiatives, including the Global Virus Network, which helps set up protocols for when a virus spreads.

Since the mid 1990s, the University of Maryland has helped provide HIV services to more than 7,000 Baltimore residents.

“Baltimore still remains a city with a high transmittal rate,” Blattner, “We are working everyday to change that.”

Among the passengers was former president of the International AIDS Society Joep Lange, a well-known researcher from the Netherlands, opposition leader Bill Shorten said in Australia's Parliament.

Nobel laureate Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and president of the International AIDS Society, paid tribute to Lange in a speech in the Australian capital, Canberra.

"Joep was a wonderful person -- a great professional ... but more than that, a wonderful human being," she said. "If it is confirmed, it will be a terrible loss for all of us. I have no words, really, to try to express my sadness. I feel totally devastated."
 
Curran said the strides in AIDS research will be on full display at the conference as they remember those who were killed.

While there, Jhpiego will present the work they have done in Africa in promoting male circumcisions and HIV testing.

“Our outreach is predicted to stop the spread of HIV to 100,000 people,” she said. “While we are making an impact, this is something that can’t be achieved without collaboration.”

**The Associated Press contributed to this story

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