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July 19. 2014 10:28PM

Salem woman had met 1 victim from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

A Salem woman who previously worked for Save the Children said the loss of a prominent AIDS researcher on board the downed Malaysian airliner has rocked the worldwide community of those combating the deadly epidemic.

Christina D'Allesandro was the HIV adviser for Save the Children UK until about eight years ago. Her focus was on providing services to children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS, primarily in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

She met Joep Lange, a Dutch AIDS research pioneer, at an international donors conference in London about 10 years ago.

Lange, a former president of the International AIDS Society, was among the 298 people killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed Thursday in Ukraine.

"He was certainly one of the most prominent figures in the movement," she said.

D'Allesandro previously had attended the International AIDS Conference, where Lange and several other delegates on board Flight 17 were heading; this year's conference is in Melbourne, Australia.

D'Allesandro said the loss of such passionate individuals, especially at a time when new treatments and even vaccines seem so promising, is "heartbreaking."

D'Allesandro, the daughter of state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, grew up in Manchester and attended Manchester West High School and the University of New Hampshire. She earned a graduate degree in population and health policy at London School of Economics and lived and worked in England for six years before returning to New Hampshire.

She was vacationing with her family at the beach last week when news came of the Malaysia Airlines tragedy. Then she heard some passengers were en route to the AIDS conference.

Like so many around the world, she began checking on social media to make sure her friends were all OK, including a close friend who is Dutch, the nationality of many who died on Flight 17. Her friends were alive, but grieving the loss of their colleagues.

"It was just so heartbreaking to me that the news we hear wasn't about the advances that have come out or what's coming next," she said. Instead, "we're hearing about the loss of a researcher that we all knew."

There were other emerging leaders on the plane as well, she said. "Who knows what these people would have been able to come up with?"


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