Red Deer HIV activist Jennifer Vanderschaeghe feels very grateful and fortunate to be alive.
News that a missile had shot down a Malaysian plane carrying researchers and delegates to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, stopped her cold last week.
Vanderschaeghe, the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society executive director, had attended the international conferences in Barcelona, Washington, Toronto and Vienna, and had considered going with staff this year.
But with funding cuts and the expenses of the trip, they decided to attend a researchers conference in Newfoundland.
Early media reports claimed at least 100 people destined for the conference were on the plane. The number has since been downgraded to at least six.
Vandeshaeghe said it has been a difficult week dealing with the loss of the community-based activists, researchers and leaders.
“It was so hard,” she said. “Vicarious trauma is really how I’ve been really talking about it.”
Vandeshaeghe searched social media for friends and peers who she knew were travelling to the conference to make sure they were fine.
The AIDS conference honoured the victims with a tribute to the six victims aboard the flight on the opening day of the conference. A one-minute moment of remembrance was held in honour of the victims.
Every year, the international conferences does something to remember the people who have died of HIV/AIDS since the last conference.
“Working in HIV means we’ve always managed a lot of loss,” she said. “We will continue to do what they always do, which is show up to work and do what we can around supporting people living with HIV and about preventing HIV in others … and just really try to do our best every day.”
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine on July 17. All 298 passengers from more than 10 countries were killed.