By Karen Ocamb
April 30, 2012
AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein outside Wilshire Ebell Theater April 29, 2012. “The only way to truly get control of HIV in this country is for people to know their status.” he says. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
The atmosphere was festive at the Wilshire Ebell Theater Sunday, April 29, as AIDS Healthcare Foundation celebrated a remarkable 25 years of service. Over that time, co-founder and President Michael Weinstein has grown the organization from a small group of feisty AIDS activists in 1987 to its current status as the nation’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in America and a global leader in providing medical and advocacy assistance to more than130,000 people in 22 countries.
At the core of AHF’s astounding success is a laser-like focus on the simple fact that healthcare is a right and access to treatment should not be denied anyone based on income, national origin, or any other means used to disqualify people from getting help.
Condom billboard in the City of Industry (Photo via AHF)
Weinstein, who has been an outspoken gay activist in Los Angeles since the mid-1970s, is tirelessly aggressive in his mission to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But his fearless challenge to the pharmaceutical companies to lower their drug costs, to the federal and state government over AIDS budgets cuts to ADAP and other AIDS programs, and to local governments such as West Hollywood where he pressed for condoms to be made available in jars in every bar has made him enemies over the years. During that HIV prevention push in 2000, some anti-AHF protests got ugly – with one sign calling Weinstein a “Condom Nazi.” But AHF continues to press for condom use – often using what some consider controversial education techniques – such as putting a condom on a huge billboard in the City of Industry and simply asking: “Why not?”
In an effort to “normalize” HIV testing and find the roughly 250,000 HIV positive people who are unaware of their status (and therefore more likely to spread the disease), on Friday, April 27, Weinstein was in Washington DC calling for Congress to pass Rep. Maxine Waters’ bill – the Routine HIV Screening Coverage Act (HR 4470) – that would require health insurance plans to cover routine HIV tests under the same terms and conditions as other routine health screenings. Weinstein said:
“By requiring insurer coverage of routine HIV screening, this bill should go a long way in helping to break the chain of new infections by making HIV testing — and linkage to treatment, far more readily available. We applaud Congresswoman Waters for reintroducing and carrying this lifesaving public health measure.”
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A history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and AHF’s crusade to fight the disease wherever it’s found created for AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s 25th anniversary. The film is directed by Ryan James Yezak and produced by Dana Miller.