The shooting down of a Malaysian jet over Ukraine killed 298 people on board Pro-Russian separatists have admitted to downing the Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine killing 298 people, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said on Friday. The flight took off from Amsterdam and was bounded for Kuala Lumpur. Up to 100 passengers on board doomed MH17 were experts headed for International AIDS conference in Melbourne. Joep Lange, a Dutch HIV expert and former president of the International AIDS Society, was en route to AIDS 2014.

The Melbourne conference is due to held from July 20 to 25. As many as 100 passengers on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 were going to be part of the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. The disaster, which left 298 people dead, claimed the lives of some of the world’s leading experts.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, delegates arriving in Australia for the AIDS conference were told that 108 of their colleagues had perished. One of them was Professor Joep Lange, a father of four girls and a boy, and a former President of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

Professor Lange was one of 154 Dutch passengers on the jet apparently shot down over eastern Ukraine early on Friday while on its way to Kuala Lumpur, where he was scheduled to change planes.

The Professor of Medicine at University of Amsterdam was travelling with his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren. He was due to speak on Sunday. Professor Lange’s colleagues said that he was one of those who had ‘changed the course of humanity’ and that the ‘HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant’.

AIDS lobbyist Pim de Kuijer and other researchers Martine de Schutter and Lucie van Mens were on the flight, along with World Health Organisation media relations coordinator Glenn Thomas, who was British. AIDS 2014 is due to be held from July 20 to 25 at Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre. Key speakers included former US president Bill Clinton and Bob Geldof.

Organisers confirmed today that it would go ahead as they paid tribute to the colleagues they had lost. Chris Beyrer, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said on Friday “The HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant”. US doctor Seema Yasmin described Professor Lange as a ‘kind man and a true humanitarian’.

Taking to Twitter, Dr Yasmin said of her friend: “How do we measure how much a person has done for humanity? People like Joep change the course of humanity”.

Nobel laureate Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, co-discoverer of the AIDS virus and president of the International AIDS Society, said if confirmed, Prof Lange’s death would be ‘a terrible loss for all of us. He had dedicated his life to ‘the benefit of mankind”, he said.

Close friend and Director of UNSW’s Kirby Institute, Professor David Cooper said Prof Lange had been an integral part of the HIV response. “He was one of the first global advocates for treatment in low and middle income countries.”

Prof Cooper said his family had spent several holidays in Europe and Australia with Prof Lange, who had separated from his wife and found ‘true happiness with Jacqueline’.

The AIDS conference must go ahead because that’s what Prof Lange would have wanted, he said, “After this tragedy, it should be a wake up call for them (donors) to get back in there and increase their pledges, to finally end the tragedy of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

University of Melbourne’s Professor Rob Moodie, a chair and speaker at the AIDS 2014 conference, said, “The loss of Prof Lange was a major blow to the HIV research community. To lose the previous head of the IAS is a huge tragedy and I think the conference will be dedicated to him, and the WHO and GNP+ (Global Network of People living with HIV) people who have perished.”

Prof Lange was the founder and current chairman of PharmAccess Foundation, an Amsterdam-based non-profit organisation designed to improve access to HIV/AIDS therapy in developing countries. He was also a founding editor of the academic journal, Antiviral Therapy.

Yvette Fleming, manager of Stop Aids Now, tweeted there were other colleagues on board the flight with Dr Lange. “In shock! Lucie van Mens, Martine de Schutter, Pim de Kuijer, Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren never arrived in Melbourne!” she wrote.