Joep Lange was one of many leading minds in combating the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Joep Lange was one of the leading minds in combating the HIV/Aids pandemic.

The global Aids community is in mourning. Around 100 passengers on the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 were travelling to the World Aids Conference in Australia, shaking organisers of the event and devastating their colleagues.

The Guardian reported that those killed included World Health Organization staff, former International AIDS Society (IAS) president and leading scientist Joep Lange and other activists and researchers in the HIV/Aids field.

Professor James McIntyre, Chief Executive Officer of South Africa’s Anova Health Institute, which runs the Health4Men project, expressed his sorrow at the news of Lange’s death.

“Joep Lange was a great scientist, a great activist and a great humanitarian in the field of AIDS,” said McIntyre. “He was a passionate advocate for African researchers, and was instrumental in supporting our first work in preventing mother to child transmission in Soweto. His contributions were immense and we will all miss his insight and wisdom.”

Nobel laureate Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and current president of the IAS, 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.”

The 20th International AIDS Conference, or AIDS2014, is set to start on Sunday in Melbourne. The organisers expressed their shock and sadness at the news of the tragedy in a statement on the conference website.

They said they are “continuing to work with the authorities to clarify how the tragic loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 impacts our conference delegates, our conference partners, and our community as a whole.”

The organisers added: “In recognition of our colleagues’ dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost.”

The Boeing 777 is believed to have been shot down by an anti-aircraft missile while flying over conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. It remains unclear who was behind the downing of the aircraft.

There are unconfirmed reports that a South African man, Cameron Dalziel, was also among the victims.

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