Researcher on downed plane 'special friend, special man'
Posted July 18, 2014
Durham, N.C. — The director of Duke University's Global Health Institute remembered a colleague Friday as "a special friend and a special man."
Michael H. Merson is a professor at Duke and was working closely with Joep Lange, one of the travelers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Lange, the former president of the International AIDS Society and a well-known researcher from the Netherlands died Thursday when that flight was shot down over Ukraine.
The men met in 1992 and worked together at the World Health Organization where they collaborated on efforts to treat AIDS, especially in poorer countries.
"He found ways to bring the price of drugs down, and he found ways to convince decision makers this was a priority," Merson said of Lange, "all of it on top of being a top scientist."
“We grieve Joep Lange’s death and those of the other AIDS activists and scientists who have tragically died traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.”
Chris Beyrer, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, said "the HIV/AIDS movement has truly lost a giant."
Many of the almost 300 people on board the doomed airliner were heading from Amsterdam to Melbourne, Australia, for the AIDS conference, which begins Sunday.
American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought down the aircraft, but it was not yet clear who fired it.
In a speech Friday, President Barack Obama noted the loss to the world scientific community.
"These were men and women who dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others," he said. "They were taken from us in a senseless act of violence."
Merson's personal relationship with a victim defines his experience of the tragedy.
"When you have one that touches you, you realize everyone of these involves human beings," he said.