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17th July

A privilege denied to many

I’m moved to see the hand writing of my dear friend and doctor Joep Lange on the first page of one of the notebooks I’ve chosen at random from the stacks on my table.

It’s dated April 9, 1988, which was when I first went to see him at the Amsterdam Medical Center. I had been diagnosed with HIV in Mexico several months earlier and was in need of medical care.

Joep gave me that care, saving my life by providing me the medication I needed. When the virus became resistant to one drug, he made sure I got another.

I was extremely lucky to be in the hands of one of the most prominent Aids experts in the world, who, on the first day we met, wrote in my notebook the phone numbers where he could be reached day and night. Joep became a deeply engaged board member of the ArtAids Foundation I set up to combat the stigma surrounding HIV through art. But most of all, Joep and his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren became close friends.

I’d recognise his handwriting anywhere, its letters written in haste but flowing elegantly, slightly bent forward just as Joep himself was, as if facing a constant headwind.

It is the same handwriting with which he dedicated the many books he gave me and the same as on the little notes that together with a bottle of wine he’d leave in our apartment in Barcelona the times he stayed with us. The same handwriting with which he jotted ideas on the back of an envelope when we were talking in the lobby of a Bangkok hotel about the project we set up to provide underprivileged HIV-infected children with medical care.

The same handwriting as on the last card he sent me for my birthday, on which he wrote: ‘Don’t regret growing older, it’s a privilege denied to many.’

That very privilege was denied to him and Jacqueline when, on July 17 2014, the plane they were travelling on to attend the International Aids Conference in Melbourne was shot down over Ukraine.

When I look at his hand writing in my notebook Joep feels close by, as if he’s still here.

And in a way he is; being missed so strongly even years after Joep left us is a privilege denied to many.

A privilege denied to many
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