Victim of MH17: Remembering visionary of AIDS research

AMSTERDAM -- Among the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were nearly at least six experts on AIDS. They were heading to a conference in Melbourne. Former President Bill Clinton will be addressing the conference on Sunday. He says he is "sickened" by what happened and called them martyrs to the cause in the battle against AIDS.

Among the men and women of science who died in the crash was Joep Lange, a doctor, visionary and campaigner who spearheaded the push to get cheap anti-retroviral drugs to the poor.

"I think the greatest achievement of Joep is to really give a face to the nameless people mostly in Africa and Asia who are suffering from one of the biggest epidemics of all time," said his friend and fellow researcher, Tobias Rinke de Wit with The Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development. He said Joep probably saved millions of lives.

"There are nine million people now getting treatment in Africa, and Joep contributed to that big time," says Rinke de Wit.

His partner in life and work was Jacqueline van Tongeren, who was traveling with him to conference in Australia.

Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren

Sun Ding, a colleague, is still struggling to accept that van Tongeren is gone. She says she will miss "her laughter and her saying to me, 'Soon we will make it.'"

All of the nearly hundred AIDS and HIV scientists and activists who lost their lives will be terribly missed.

The International AIDS Society announced Saturday that at least six delegates (not 100 as previously reported) were traveling to the conference.

But the fierce dedication of champions, like Joep Lange, lives on.

Rinke de Wit says, "It's going to be a hole. Absolutley, but we will not stop. We'll fill in his legacy. This is not the end. Certainly not."

The work on HIV will go on, but this tragedy represents a setback. As one Australian researcher put it, what if the cure for AIDS was on that plane?

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."