NRC: The legacy of the AIDS pioneer who lost his life in MH17
One of the prominent victims of MH17 was AIDS pioneer Joep Lange. Five years later, his views are very much alive in the way the disease is dealt with.
As of August 1st, PrEP (a pill that can prevent an HIV infection) will be available nationwide for people who run a high risk of HIV infection, homosexual men with varying sexual contacts. Since PrEP can prevent a large number of new infections this is a breakthrough in the fight against the HIV epidemic.
“Joep would have been proud and satisfied”, says Peter Reiss, Professor of Medicine at the Amsterdam UMC in Amsterdam. “But maybe he would also think all of it had taken too long because Joep was often impatient, sometimes even pushy, if necessary.”
As an HIV researcher, Joep Lange was involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS from the very start. On Thursday, July 17th 2014, he was one of the victims of the missile attack on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 above Ukraine. Together with his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren he was on his way to the twentieth edition of the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
Joep Lange kickstarted the so-called H-TEAM (HIV Transmission Elimination AMsterdam), which among others revolves around finding the people who have been recently infected. That means: making people aware, faster and more frequent testing, and when someone tests positively to treat them with antiretrovirals within 24 hours. In this way, the chain of onward transmission is broken.
Reiss: “At present, after a couple of years, we are already seeing results. The speed with which people who have been recently infected are treated has increased exponentially in Amsterdam. The number of new HIV infections is decreasing. And now, with the addition of PrEP, we hope to see an even sharper decline.”