The AIDS community is in shock over the news that dozens of its members were aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight that was apparently shot down Thursday. The sorrow is particularly widespread over the death of Joep Lange, a Dutch researcher and advocate, who played a pivotal role in the AIDS movement for more than three decades.
"We’ve lost one of the giants in our field," says Dr.Richard Marlink, who heads the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative. “We’ve lost a voice that I don’t think is easily replaced.”
Colleagues of Lange said his career embodied some of the most important shifts in the way scientists have approached the fight against HIV/AIDS: He gave patients and advocates more of a say in setting the research agenda, and he worked with governments and businesses to ensure that breakthroughs in treatment become available to even the poorest patients.
"[Lange’s] life’s work didn’t just reflect the changes in AIDS," Marlink says. "He led those changes."
Dr. Helene Gayle, who succeeded Lange for a two-year term as president of the International AIDS Society in 2004, agrees. “He could connect the dots between the different aspects of the HIV fight,” says Gayle, who is now president of the nonprofit CARE. “There are some people who are just clinicians, or some people who are just researchers, or just on the prevention and behaviorial side or the social side. He really understood it all. And he was truly a scientist with a heart.”
Lange, who was 61 and headed the department of global health at the University of Amsterdam, began his work on AIDS as a doctor and clinical researcher in the 1980s. His earliest contributions were scientific. He was the lead architect of many early trials of antiretroviral therapy and studied how to prevent HIV-positive pregnant women from transmitting the virus to their babies.