THE AIDS 2014 welcome fireworks scheduled in Melbourne for tonight have been cancelled amid unconfirmed figures that around 100 delegates died in the MH17 tragedy earlier today.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle confirmed that out of respect for the victims of the plane tragedy — many of which were on their way to the city for the AIDS 2014 conference — fireworks celebrating the launch of the week-long event would be called off.
However, the Lord Mayor has decided to honour victims by projecting messages of hope onto Hamer Hall at 5.45pm along with flying all flags from government buildings at half-mast throughout the entirety of the conference.
News of the tragedy has shocked every corner of the world, in particularly the global HIV and AIDS community and officials, researchers and academics dedicated to treating it and finding a cure.
Reflections and messages of condolence have been flooding in for one confirmed high-profile victim, former president of the International AIDS Society and prominent HIV advocate Joep Lange.
Professor David Cooper from the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute said that the world and the HIV and AIDS community have lost a leader.
“Professor Joep Lange was an integral part of the global AIDS response and someone I had worked with for 30 years. He was a true leader in the response and one of the first people to advocate for anti retroviral drugs to low and middle income countries,” Cooper told the Star Observer.
Despite the recent nature of the tragedy, Wilson hoped that Longe’s passing along with the estimated 100 reported AIDS 2014 delegates who also died on the flight would encourage the research and wider community to continue supporting those living with HIV and fight for a day when it is completely eradicated.
“I hope his passing in such a tragic way catalyses the global community to say the job isn’t completed and that we don’t desert people wit HIV who need treatment,” Cooper said.
“The global AIDS community is an incredibly close-knit community including people who are passionate about what they do with incredibly strong international relationships.”
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive director Rob Lake said that he extended condolences to all the families and friends of the victims.
“We extend our very deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of all of those who were aboard the Malaysian Airlines flight that crashed in the Ukraine,” Lake said.
“This morning’s news is absolutely tragic and will be felt throughout the conference and worldwide.”
It has been widely reported that over 100 people on MH17 – a third of the flight – were delegates heading to AIDS 2014, otherwise officially known as the 20th International AIDS Conference, and Lake said that the combined loss of expertise and talent would be devastating.
“The people we have lost have played critical roles in the global fight against HIV.”
The Victorian AIDS Council has also expressed its condolences.
“Our sincerest condolences go out to the families, friends and colleagues of those lost in today’s tragedy, including those delegates on board flight MH17 who were en route to AIDS 2014,” chief executive Simon Ruth said in a statement.
“The energy and excitement has been building amongst the local community in preparation for hosting this global event. It is devastating to learn of this tragic loss for the international HIV/AIDS community on the eve of AIDS 2014.
“I trust we’ll see this same international community come together in a spirit of solidarity throughout the week ahead.”
At the time of writing, the International AIDS Society was yet to confirm the exact number of AIDS 2014 delegates who died on MH17 but they were working with authorities to do so.
They also confirmed that the conference would go ahead as planned.