TRIBUTES are flowing in for delegates of the AIDS 2014 conference who perished in the MH17 flight in Ukraine this week, with a sober atmosphere cast over the event as it gets under way in Melbourne tomorrow.

The International AIDS Society (IAS) today confirmed that at least six delegates to AIDS 2014, officially known as the International AIDS Conference, died in the Malaysian Airlines tragedy that rocked the world on Friday.

Among the victims was former IAS president Joep Lange who was travelling alongside his partner and fellow researcher, Jacqueline van Tongeren, from the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development.

“This is a moment of deep sadness for the world. We all share in the sense of grief and loss of the friends and family of all the 298 on board,” current IAS president Francoise Barre-Sinoussi said today.

“We grieve alongside all of those throughout the world who have lost friends and family in this senseless tragedy.”

Barre-Sinoussi paid respect to the man who once occupied her position along with others who pioneered HIV and AIDS research for decades.

“The extent of our loss is hard to comprehend and express. Our colleagues were travelling because of their dedication to bringing and end to AIDS. We honour their commitment and keep them in our thoughts as we begin our program on Sunday,” she said.

At time of print, the IAS had confirmed the following delegates as victims of the plane tragedy along with Lange and van Tongeren: Campaigner Pim de Kuijer from STOP AIDS NOW!; Lucie van Mens, the director of AIDS Action Europe and her colleague Maria Adriana de Schutter; and Glenn Thomas from the World Health Organization.

There have been unconfirmed reports that attendees at the International Indigenous Pre-Conference on HIV and AIDS in Sydney yesterday were told that 108 conference delegates had died soon after news of MH17 broke.

The somber mood of the conference was palpable as delegates started to converge on the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre today for registration and pre-conference talks and events, with many still expressing disbelief, sorrow and confusion over what exactly occurred in the skies over Ukraine.

(Photo credit: Rod Spark)


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