At least seven top AIDS researchers died in yesterday's Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash, said the organizer of the 2014 International Aids Conference they were en route to.
Some initial news reports said as many as 108 — a third of the 298 people aboard — were conference attendees, however as of Friday organizers in Melbourne, Australia, were only able to match seven of the names on their registration rolls to names of those on the flight, The Washington Post reported
"We have been working hard to try and confirm how many people were on the flight. We’ve been speaking to a number of different authorities, and we think the actual number is much smaller," said Chris Beyrer, who will assume the presidency of the International AIDS Society next week.
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He emphasized that the death toll was likely "an order of magnitude smaller than what has been reported."
Scientist Joep Lange and his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren were among the first confirmed to have died in the crash. Lange was the former president of the International AIDS Society and played a significant role in the development of retroviral therapy for those living with HIV/AIDS. Such therapies played a crucial role in turning AIDS from a short-term fatal threat into something more like a chronic illness.
The World Health Organization also confirmed that spokesman Glenn Thomas was aboard the flight. Employers confirmed that three Dutch AIDS activists including Lucie van Mens, Martine de Schutter of Bridging the Gaps, and Pim de Kuijer of Stop AIDS Now were also on the plane.
President Obama confirmed Friday that one American was killed when the plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. It remains unknown who was responsible for the strike.
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