MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The University of Miami’s Dr. Margaret Fischl struggled against tears Friday as she mourned the loss of a long-time friend and colleague, and recounted his herculean efforts in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
“Everyone was just absolutely devastated,” Fischl said of learning that Dutch HIV/AIDS researcher and activist Dr. Joep Lange was among as many as 100 HIV/AIDS professionals who were killed in the shoot down of Malaysia flight 17 over Ukraine.
Dr. Fischl of UM’s HIV/AIDS program knew and worked with Lange for thirty years.
“He was involved with HIV/AIDS from the very beginning of the epidemic, and was so committed to it,” Fischl said in her office on the UM/Miller Medical School campus.
“He was pivotal,” Fishcl said, in developing AIDS treatment and vaccines, even for the unborn. “For the prevention of children being infected from a mom that HIV infected.”
And Lange worked tirelessly to take the fight against the virus to undeveloped nations.
“He famously said, ‘If we can get Coca Cola to Africa, we can get HIV drugs to Africa,'” Fischl said.
The battle has lost a champion in Lange. He and his many colleagues were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia when the Malaysian jetliner was shot down.
“This is truly a sad day,” said the International AIDS Society’s Chris Beyrer. “The HIV movement has truly lost a giant.”
President Barack Obama spoke of Lange and the others in a live address to the nation Thursday.
“These are men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others,” President Obama said. “It’s important for us to lift them up and to affirm their lives.”
In a twinkling, an act of insanity took the lives of 298 airline passengers, but in taking the lives of Lange and his many colleagues, countless more might yet be lost to HIV/AIDS.
“A critical mass of people were just lost,” said UM’s Fischl.
As she grieved the death of her friend, Lange, Fischl said he left a lasting stamp on the world.
“His contributions were tremendous, and they will always be there,” Fischl said, her voice choking. “He will always, always, be remembered.”
In advance of the International AIDS Conference, the U.N. on Wednesday reported the global AIDS epidemic should be under control within fifteen years. The very next day, that goal may have been blown out of the sky over Ukraine.