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‘Today we are together to celebrate a historic event: the Inauguration of the Joep Lange Institute,’ said Princess Mabel van Oranje, who opened the event. On Tuesday March 15th, 400 family, friends, colleagues and thought leaders from business, politics, civil society and global health research were present in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam for the official launch. The Joep Lange Institute is an activist institute, inspired by the life and work of Joep Lange who, along with his partner Jacqueline van Tongeren, lost his life in the MH17 tragedy over Ukraine. At the event numerous top speakers shared their views on how the Institute will build on Lange’s legacy. In reflection of Joep and Jacqueline’s love of the arts, the program was interspersed with musical performances. 

‘As you all know Joep left us a rich legacy and also a lot of unfinished business,’ Princess Mabel continued. Joep Lange was a prominent scientist, and also an activist. He was especially pragmatic when it came to applying science to real-world settings. The institute will combine this science, pragmatism and activism. ‘A place that combines healthcare, technology, economics and development, that empowers the public and private sector to work together and make healthcare accessible for all including the marginalized,  the invisible, the poor,’ explains Princess Mabel.

‘Joep understood that the poor are on their own and have to rely on markets to access healthcare. Joep Lange Institute will work on this agenda,’ said Onno Schellekens, Chair of the Joep Lange Institute Board. ‘We will design and test the possible solutions on the ground, to see what works and what doesn’t.  And when it works we advocate relentlessly for policy change.’ Schellekens highlighted a promising solution that is being developed in Kenya, the mobile health wallet. The health wallet allows people, even those currently excluded, to save and pay for healthcare through their mobile phones. It allows donors and governments to reach them directly.

Schellekens also announced the appointment of the first two Chairs of the Joep Lange Academic Chair and Fellows Program: Global Fund Executive Director Mark Dybul and behavioral economist  and Duke University Professor Dan Ariely. The Academic Chair is based at the University of Amsterdam, with the support of the Dutch government.

Professor Ariely will help design and test the mobile health wallet services in living labs in Nairobi. Ariely will be conducting research on how people in the slums can be incentivized to save for health. ‘One of the biggest barriers to accessing healthcare is human behavior. Through our research we want to help people make better decisions,’ he explained.

‘What we need is people who are willing to see and hear the world in a different way. The Joep Lange Institute should drive a global agenda around these two issues: ending epidemics and ending inequality,’ said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. ‘The arc of history eventually bends to justice. We can accelerate the bending of this arc.’

Wafaa El-Sadr, Professor of Global Health at Columbia University also believes that the Institute should act differently. ‘To ensure that the next phase in the fight against HIV/AIDS does not catch us unawares, we need to ask ourselves earnestly how can we prepare and how can we think ahead,’ she said.

Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson explained how through better medicines and better monitoring of HIV drug resistance ‘we can save 1 billion years of life.’ He believes the Joep Lange Institute has an important role to play in this. Stoffels: ‘To achieve this enormous goal we need a global understanding of HIV virology, funding to pay for drugs and a sustainable supply chain.’

In addition, according to John Martin, Executive Chairman of Gilead Sciences ‘you need science where the disease is.’ The Institute should look for real north to south collaborations in many different fields, including science. Joep and Jacqueline introduced the yearly INTEREST Workshops to improve scientific research in Africa on HIV/AIDS. ‘The African CROI,’ as Martin called it.

Christiaan Rebergen, Director General for International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, acknowledged the importance to break through barriers and work with both the public and private sector. ‘Even though development stays a public matter, we have to work in different ways, through new partnerships and by trying new things.’

The final speech was held by Khama Rogo, Lead Health Specialist for the World Bank. He challenged the people present and the Institute to not just talk about change but to act. ‘The measure of greatness is your ability to take responsibility for your thoughts,’ Khama Rogo quoted Winston Churchill. ‘The people who are willing to take action are the ones who fight social injustice. For the Joep Lange Institute to succeed in achieving its mission, things can no longer be business as usual. The institute should strive for more connection between the north and the south and more connection between the public and private sector. The institute has to act differently and effectively to make a real difference.’

Moderator Tracy Metz summarized the day’s takeaway as follows: ‘The lesson today is that we should all become an impatient optimists.’

To download the song ‘The optimist’ that Michiel Borstlap composed for the Joep Lange Institute, click here