News of the deaths of more than 100 AIDS conference attendees in a plane crash in Ukraine casts a shadow on important research released at the meeting.
Delegates to the International AIDS Conference in Australia paused Friday to remember their colleagues, some of the fiercest warriors in the battle against HIV, who died yesterday when their airplane was shot down over a war-torn region of eastern Ukraine.
Among the conference attendees who perished in the crash were Glenn Thomas, a longtime spokesman for the World Health Organization, and Dr. Joep Lange, a researcher and advocate and former president of the International AIDS Society.
In a statement, the World Health Organization said Thomas’ twin sister reported her brother “died doing what he loved.”
Thomas came to WHO from the BBC. “Glenn will be remembered for his ready laugh,” the statement reads. “He leaves behind his partner Claudio and his twin sister Tracey.”
Michael Weinstein, a pioneer in the battle against HIV and AIDS, sent a heartfelt message to his staff at the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“More than 100 of our comrades in arms in the war against AIDS died on the battlefield yesterday. They died in the service of humanity at the hands of barbarians. It is impossible to express the totality of our sadness and outrage. Those of us who travel the world know that we could have been on that plane. We have chosen to take these risks. Yet, others of our co- workers live in dangerous places where they and their families are in danger every day. Plus, so many of our patients live at the edge of survival.
“Among the victims was Dr. Joep Lange, a renowned researcher and advocate. He was a prince of a man. He chaired the 2002 International AIDS Conference. At that meeting he stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our fight for access to medications for the developing world. The march that AHF organized at that meeting with the support of Dr. Lange was pivotal in growing support for universal access to HIV treatment.”
In other conference news, researchers reported that two Australians have apparently been cleared of HIV after receiving bone marrow transplants in Sydney. The transplants took place in 2010 and 2011. One patient received the transplant for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and the other for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Timothy Ray Brown of San Francisco is believed to be the only man on earth to be cured of HIV. Brown also had a bone marrow transplant to treat AML. His marrow came from someone who had two copies of a gene that affords protection against HIV. One of the Australian patients received one copy of the gene; the other received no copies.
Still, both men remain on antiretroviral medication as a precaution.
The United Nations released a report saying that it is possible to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. That does not mean that HIV would be eradicated, but rather “that the spread of HIV has been controlled or contained and that the impact of the virus in societies and in people’s lives has been marginalized and lessened thanks to significant declines in ill health, stigma, deaths, and the number of orphans.”
But, the authors of the ambitious report cautioned that if governments halt current programs to combat HIV, the epidemic could revert back to 2010 proportions by 2030.
The Kaiser Family Foundation issued its annual report on global funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS. The report concluded that donor governments contributed $8.1 billion in 2013, down 3 percent from 2012.