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AMA mourns MH17 loss

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The AMA has offered its “sincere condolences” to the families and friends of those aboard the ill-fated Malaysian Airways flight MH17, which was shot down above eastern Ukraine last Friday.

Members of the international medical community, among them Toowoomba doctor couple Jill and Roger Guard and at least six delegates to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, are confirmed to have been among the 298 people – including 28 Australia citizens and nine permanent residents in Australia – who died in the disaster.

AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said the attack was a horrific event that had affected many from around the world, including Australia.

“It is hard to comprehend that so many people could suddenly lose their lives in these unpredictable circumstances,” A/Professor Owler said. “Many families form many countries, including our own, have been touched by this horrific event.”

In the second major tragedy to hit Malaysian Airlines in the last few months, MH17 – en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur – was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in airspace above separatist areas of eastern Ukraine.

While formal investigations into the circumstances of the attack have barely begun, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other members of the international community including the United States say the finger of blame points squarely at separatists armed and supported by the Russian Government.

Initial reports had suggested that as many as 100 AIDS researchers, activists and health workers travelling to the Melbourne conference had been on the flight, but that has subsequently been revised down.

At the time of going to press, conference organisers had confirmed six delegates were on the flight, including internationally renowned researcher and clinician Joep Lange, former President of the International AIDS Society, World Health Organisation official Glenn Thomas, Pim de Kuijer of Stop AIDS Now, Lucie van Mens and Maria Adriana de Schutter, both from AIDS Action Europe and Jacqueline van Tongeren of the Amsterdam Institute of Global Health and Development.

Current International AIDS Society President, Nobel laureate Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, said those attending the conference were “in shock” at the loss of life, including that of their colleagues.

“We are all thinking about our colleagues and our friends and all the other passengers as well,” Professor Barré-Sinoussi said in an interview at The Conversation. “It is a real tragedy.”

But she said the organisers were determined that the conference should proceed despite the loss of life.

“It was very important for us, thinking about our colleagues, to show people that we will continue to fight [against AIDS], and that is the best tribute we can do to honour them,” Professor Barré-Sinoussi, Director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, said.

A/Professor Owler paid tribute to Dr Lange and other AIDS activists and researchers who had died in the tragedy, adding that the Association was deeply saddened by the loss of all lives on the flight.

“The world has today lost many people who have played critical roles in the global fight against HIV,” he said. “The AMA expresses itys profound sadness and sincere condolences to the families and friends of all the victims of this catastrophe.”

Adrian Rollins