How a global health organization operates was the topic of discussion Thursday evening at the World AIDS Museum in Wilton Manors.
“What keeps me up at night is the thought of what the consequences would be if we were to fail,” said Michael Weinstein, President of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “If we were to fail there would definitely be lives that would be lost, institutions would not be held accountable and there would be tremendous consequences.”
With more than 672,000 patients in care in 38 countries, AHF is a leading provider of cutting-edge medicine and advocacy and the largest HIV/AIDS medical care provider in the United States.
And its story is just beginning to be told.
“For quite a few years both my board of directors and others kept telling me that AHF had a responsibility to record our story,” Weinstein said Thursday evening at a book signing for Righteous Rebels: AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Crusade to Change the World.
Written by Patrick Range McDonald, a Los Angeles newspaper reporter, the book is the first step in bringing AHF’s story to light.
“One of the things that I learned from working on this is Michael and his team were doing things for the right reasons and were really passionate about it,” said McDonald.
In the book, McDonald chronicles AHF’s rise from a feisty group of activists to a powerful organization with global reach – one that Weinstein admits is no stranger to risk taking. The author also peers into Weinstein’s background, providing personal details about family and his early social activism.
“There is a lot of love and a lot of hope,” McDonald said of the book. “These are things we can learn from right now because it’s sort of funky times.”
The election of Donald Trump as U.S. President has raised several questions as to the future of HIV/AIDS care. Weinstein said “dread” is the appropriate word, but reminded the audience AHF is a nonpartisan organization that has operated under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
“I don’t think AIDS is a partisan issue,” Weinstein said. “We have a history of working on Capitol Hill on both sides of the aisle and will continue to do that. There’s rhetoric from the Trump administration that they are going to attack drug prices and that would certainly be welcome.”
About 60 people attended the book signing. Weinstein shared some of the highlights of his work, crediting innovative marketing strategies with being able to reach people.
“Marketing has changed things,” he said. “In Uganda we put up billboards about cheating and to get tested. It caused such a furor and it was only four billboards. Then we had the ‘Feel the Bern’ billboards (a takeoff of the Bernie Sanders campaign message) that got all this national press. This had never been done before or it was done in such a boring way that nobody paid attention.”
Weinstein said the goal is to bring one million people into care by 2020. World Health Organization reports indicate there are 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide in 2015.
AHF, Weinstein said, employs five thousand people at decentralized bureaus stretching from Russia to Louisiana.
“I have a venerable army across the world to carry out my crazy ideas,” Weinstein said.