The 108 Australia-bound AIDS researchers, activists and health workers killed when the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was shot down over the Ukraine are “martyrs” in the fight against the disease, former US president Bill Clinton says.
Clinton, who will deliver an address to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne on Wednesday, said he personally knew some of the victims aboard the plane.
“It’s awful,” Clinton told CNN.
“Those people are really in a way martyrs to the cause that we are going to Australia to talk about.”
Clinton has been one of the global leaders in the fight against AIDS and he described the deaths of so many AIDS experts as “sickening”.
“They were doing so much good,” Clinton said.
“This gathering, we do this on a regular basis, have these international AIDS conferences and I try to go to all of them because I’m always so inspired by what other people are doing and what we can learn from them.
“Thinking about those people being knocked out of the sky is pretty tough.”
The AIDS conference, the largest of its kind in the world with 14,000 attendees, is scheduled to begin on Sunday.
There were 298 passengers and crew on MH17, which took off from Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur.
The passengers attending the AIDS conference were scheduled to catch connecting flights from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne.