Dr. Joep Lange was a prominent doctor, scientist and activist. He was a pioneer in his academic field and ahead of his time in his drive to convert science into action. He never shied away from pointing out the real issues and worked tirelessly to address them.
The patient always came first, whether it was one of his own patients in the Netherlands or someone he had never met in a country where proper care was out of reach. His drive pushed Joep beyond convention, stirring controversy if needed to achieve results.
In 1996 he discovered the link between serological response patterns to HIV infection and the speed at which HIV progresses, providing the rationale for the use of combination antiretroviral drugs. It was combination therapy that transformed HIV from a death sentence into a manageable chronic condition. After this discovery it dumbfounded Joep to see how little was being done for Africa, where millions of people were dying of AIDS.
He made it his mission to get people in Africa on treatment. He started clinical trials, pioneering treatment for pregnant mothers to stop transmission to their newborn children. These studies delivered proof that – if treated – pregnant women with HIV could give birth to healthy babies.
In retrospect, this was a groundbreaking discovery. It not only meant that future generations had a chance, it completely changed the face of the disease into a poverty-related disease. This reframed the debate.
When political will lacked to start treatment, he partnered with the private sector: Heineken was the first to join, treating their employees in six African countries as early as 2001. This proved that it was possible and affordable to take antiretroviral treatment to Africa, and that the private sector could play an important role in this public good that we call healthcare.
The success of this effort laid the foundation for what would later become the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Not only did he contribute to the way in which we fight AIDS today, he was also a pioneer in developing a new approach to development aid. With the organizations PharmAccess and AIGHD he founded, he was conducting groundbreaking research, applying innovations, setting up controversial partnerships with the private sector and testing new financing mechanisms in countries where no one thought it would be possible.
Just before Joep’s tragic death in the MH17 plane crash, he again pointed out an uncomfortable truth: the African continent is enjoying unprecedented economic growth, but many inhabitants are not reaping any of the benefits.
Especially those living in the slums and rural, remote areas are left behind. Joep argued we need a Great Escape, a way to ensure everyone benefits from Africa’s strides forward.
The Joep Lange Institute was established after Joep’s passing to continue his mission. We take on the challenge to facilitate a Great Escape for those left behind. The surge of mobile technology sees to a unique and unprecedented opportunity to reach and include everyone in taking a step forward.
We continue Joep’s dream for inclusive quality health care, but also his inexhaustible drive and unconventional approach. We stick to Joep’s motto and show the world that “nothing is impossible, especially if it is inevitable.”