By Aaron Blevins
Representatives of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) protested at Rossmore Avenue and 6th Street on Monday, hoping to capture President Barack Obama’s attention as his motorcade passed through the Mid-Wilshire area during rush hour.
As Obama was headed to two fundraising events in Hancock Park, AHF sought to raise more awareness about the number of low-income AIDS patients still on a waiting list to receive life-altering antiretrovirus medications.
“Right now, there are approximately 7,000 people in nine states on a waiting list,” said Ged Kenslea, AHF’s communications director.
Kenslea said that when Obama took office, about 100 people were on the waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which is a federal/state program. To get the 7,000 residents off the waiting list, they would need to be paired with medications that cost from $12,000 to $20,000 per year, he said. Kenslea said approximately $64 million is needed to cover the cost.
“This is not a huge amount of money,” he added.
Kenslea referenced some Africa-based AIDS studies that found that patients on antiretrovirus medications are 96 percent less likely to pass the disease to a partner.
“It’s also a sensible or prudent public health strategy,” he said.
The White House has pledged support in the past. Kenslea said that, previously, it had been estimated that $124 million would clear the waiting list, and the Obama Administration offered $25 million. He said the funding did get patients off the waiting list, but only temporarily.
“It was a very short-term fix,” Kenslea said. “We believe President Obama can be doing far better on AIDS.”
In addition, he believes the White House could reapportion the money to reduce overhead and put pressure on drug companies to lower their antiretroviral medication prices. However, Kenslea said AHF understands that the president has plenty of agenda items to address already.
He said the waiting list consists of residents from nine states: Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Utah and Virginia. Kenslea said Florida has the most people on the waiting list, with 3,300. Georgia and Virginia follow with 1,400 and 1,000, respectively. According to a statement, ADAPs serve more than 165,000 patients.
The protest was originally planned for the intersection of Muirfield Road and 6th Street, but police cordoned off the area. Obama appeared at two fundraisers nearby; one was at the home of producer James Lassiter and his wife, Mai, while the other was at the home of actor Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith.
At the first fundraiser, tickets were reportedly $35,800 per person, and actor Will Smith and Laker legend Magic Johnson were in attendance. Kenslea said AHF has five clinics named in honor of the former Los Angeles point guard.
At the fundraisers, which were to garner support from the Latino community, Obama said the reelection campaign will not come easy.
“I’ve said this before—this election will not be as sexy as the first one,” Obama said, according to a statement. “Back then, it was still fresh and new. I didn’t have any gray hair. Everybody loved the ‘Hope’ posters and all that. This time…we’ve got to grind it out a little bit. We’ve got to grind it out. But the cause is the same. And my passion is the same. And my commitment is the same.”
Obama reportedly talked about his new mortgage refinance program and repeated a theme from past fundraising appearances—that he’s had many accomplishments, but needs a second term to finish the job.
“We’ve made great progress, but we’ve got so much more work to do,” he said. “Obviously in Washington, the politics that I think people are hoping for is not what they’re getting. It’s still dysfunctional. It’s still perversely partisan.”
At the Banderas/Griffith house, the crowd had paid $5,000 admission, and the president was introduced by actress Eva Longoria, who said he “speaks to the Latino community because he knows he’s the president of all Americans.”
“The American ideal, the American creed, is one that animates the entire world,” Obama reportedly said.
He told the audience that the Republicans have fought the administration every step of the way, but it passed the healthcare bill, averted a depression, passed financial reform and ended the Iraq war regardless.
“But we’ve got so much work left to do,” he said. “We’ve got about sixty percent done. I’m pretty confident we can get the next forty percent done in the next five years.”
Obama also spoke about his jobs bill and immigration reform.
“We’re going to have to mobilize, and we’re going to have to organize and we’re going to have to tap into the best instincts of the American people in order to make it happen,” he said of immigration reform.
After the event, Obama’s motorcade returned to a Beverly Hills hotel at 9:15 p.m.