Obama Salutes AIDS Researchers Who Died on Malaysian Flight


Shortly before noon on July 18, President Obama gave a brief speech regarding the tragic crash of Malaysian flight MH17 and the situation in Gaza between Israel and Palestine. Before he ended, he paid a tribute to the 100 AIDS and HIV experts that were on their way to a conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Obama ended his speech:

On board Malaysian Airline Flight MH17 there were apparently nearly 100 researchers and advocates traveling to an international conference in Australia dedicated to combating AIDS/HIV. These were men and women who had dedicated their lives to saving the lives of others and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence…It’s important for us to lift them up and affirm their lives; and it’s time for us to heed their example.

It was a moving recognition of the scientists who have poured their lives into tackling the tough issue of HIV/AIDS. How damaging to the research is the loss of these brilliant minds? The knowledge, expertise and experience that went down with the plane will likely set the search for an AIDS cure back years, according to experts.

The scientists, doctors, advocates and researchers were heading to the International AIDS Society’s 20th annual conference. The title of this year’s conference is Stepping Up The Pace. Unfortunately, the pace may have just been slowed by the loss of 100 researchers, scientists, doctors, policy advocates and campaign workers. In his speech, Obama saluted the AIDS researchers who died on Malaysian flight MH17.

Joep Lange, the head of the Department of Global Health at the University of Amsterdam was among those lost. Lange had been an advocate for AIDS research and treatment since 1983. He helped launch initiatives to bring education and medicines to countries in Africa and Asia devastated by the disease.  Another known passenger was Glenn Raymond Thomas, a spokesman for WHO, the World Health Organization. Also killed in the crash was Pim de Kuijer, a Dutch parliamentary lobbyist for Stop Aids Now! Remembering de Kuijer, former MEP  Lousewies van der Laan stated “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. Let’s try to live up to his legacy and work even harder towards a peaceful world.”

The plane, a Boeing 777, was shot out of the sky by an air to ground missile as it flew over troubled eastern Ukraine. The passengers and crew became victims of the unrest and violence caused by Putin’s policy of supporting Russian separatists in order to gain territory for Russia. It worked in Crimea, but is causing a civil war in eastern Ukraine. Now innocent people from across the globe have become collateral damage. The loss of the AIDS scientists in particular does not just cause personal tragedy for friends and family, but is a loss to the entire world community.

In a press conference that lasted under 15 minutes, including a question and answer section, some commentators were struck by the fact that President Obama took the time to honor these researchers and advocates. Ukraine’s President Poroshenko is calling the crash an act of terrorism by the Russian separatists. President Obama has called for an immediate cease-fire, the airspace over eastern Ukraine has been cleared, and more sanctions against Russia have been put into place; but it is too late for Flight MH17. The loss of the people on this airplane is being looked at as a global tragedy. Obama saluted the AIDS researchers who died on Malaysian flight MH17 and the loss to the HIV and AIDS community will impact research efforts in the years to come.

By: Rebecca Savastio



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