Saturday, July 26, 2014

Newsletter 6.9: The Tragedy of Flight MH17

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The Tragedy of Flight MH17

As most know by now, flight MH17 was recently shot down over Ukraine. All on board were lost, but perhaps the most noted losses have been the 6 individuals who were en route to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia--particularly, Joep Lange.

In the early 80's, Lange became involved with AIDS research. By the 90's, Lange was known as one of the "Young Turks"--a group of brilliant AIDS researchers who hailed from Amersterdam. Among other successes, Lange and other researchers uncovered the progression of AIDS from no visible symptoms to full-blown AIDS. They also developed the HIV "antigen" test, which measured the amount of HIV in the blood stream. By 1996, at an AIDS Conference in Vancouver, a combination therapy was announced that could lower the virus down to almost undetectable levels.

Besides being a scientist, Lange was also an advocate for those with AIDS--especially those in third world countries. In 1993, he wrote, “It is clear that countries most struck by the HIV epidemic are unable to cope with the enormous burden of care required.” Initially, politicians in third world countries were reluctant to take on the price tag associated with Lange's recommended tri-fold therapy--up to $25,000 per person. Lange eventually found success in Thailand, and continued campaigning for the cause in other countries as well.

Lange also fought large pharmaceutical companies. Some companies wanted to limit treatment to drugs only they produced; Lange argued that only the combination approach had been effective--and this approach fell outside the realm of any single drug company. Lange was also committed to engage with both AIDS patients and AIDS activists--two groups that didn't usually interact.

Lange went on to found PharmAccess, a nonprofit designed to increase the presence of doctors and nurses in sub-Saharan Africa. He also served as president of the International AIDS society from 2002-2004.

It is evident that this loss to the AIDS community is huge. Trevor Stratton, an HIV/AIDS consultant, went so far as to state that "the cure for AIDS may have been on that plane.”

In light of the recent push by the international health community for PrEP--a single, specific AIDS prevention vaccine--are the deaths of Joep Lange and the other conference presenters strictly coincidental? Or, could it be a case of big pharma protecting their assets?

IB Times
Daily Beast
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