A Decade of Pandemic Waste

Diverted to Africa; Bay Area
Services Chopped

7/11/04 Update:  How to Help Ensure Smaller Bay Area AIDS Service Organizations Get a Fair Share of the AIDS Walk Funds

As Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger threatens to place approximately 1,440 Californians with HIV/AIDS onto waiting lists to access the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), SFAF is spearheading a rally on January 13, 2004 to protest the planned budget cuts.  SFAF claims that $24 million more is needed to rescue ADAP in California for fiscal year 2003, and an additional $45 million may be needed for fiscal year 2004.

So why has the San Francisco AIDS Foundation chopped somewhere between $22.4 million and $36 million from Bay Area services when that money could help assure Californians have access to the ADAP program, and simply shipped the money to Africa, via SFAF’s global affiliate, Pangaea? Why is SFAF crying poor over Da Arnold’s budget cuts, and yet SFAF — having slashed its own Bay Area AIDS services budget — routed millions of dollars to Africa, instead?  

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Given the size of SFAF’s public policy department, staffed with both federal and state “directors,” didn’t SFAF see the California budget crisis train wreck coming before it shipped off so many millions to Africa?  Or did SFAF simply not care that people living with HIV/AIDS in California should be given access to the same life-saving AIDS medications that it is trying to deliver to Africa?

Pat Christen has been Executive Director of SFAF for thirteen years, beginning in 1991, when the decade of pandemic waste began.  Christen has guided SFAF’s spending of at least $165 million over the last decade.  And it is largely her decisions that have resulted in the diversion of funds away from the Bay Area in order to to help Pfizer, Inc. plant a foothold in the lucrative antiretroviral pharmaceutical market in Africa.

SFAF — one of the first AIDS service organizations (ASO) in the country — had an auspicious beginning twenty years ago when it was first formed in 1984 by gay men in San Francisco’s Castro district to provide services to people with AIDS who were not receiving help from government organizations.  

SFAF’s Application for Recognition of Exemption to the IRS seeking non-profit status in May 1984 stated that its principal activities would be for “direct services to people with AIDS,” “[providing] education and literature,” “information and referral services,” “support for local epidemiologic research,” “networking to develop and provide AIDS services,” and “fundraising.”

The epidemic of waste SFAF spends on fundraising alone gobbles more of SFAF’s annual budget than does Housing Subsidies/Vouchers and grants it awards to ASO’s in the Bay Area combined.

SFAF’s so-called grantmaking process not only earns it Brownie points with the IRS, it’s a public relations tool to lure participants into donating “pledges” at its various fundraising events like the AIDS Walk, AIDS Ride and AIDS Marathon, which have been advertised for years as fundraising events intended to share proceeds with smaller Bay Area so-called “beneficiary” organizations.

Today, the staff of SFAF is top-heavy with heterosexuals, not gay men (not because all gay men are dead, but because of its Executive Director’s preference) despite the fact that gay men continue to bear the largest burden of AIDS in the San Francisco.

For the past twelve years, SFAF has been run with an iron first by its Executive Director, who is widely despised in San Francisco for having steered SFAF away from its focus on providing direct services to people living with HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area, which local direct services now seem to be about the last thing SFAF funds.

During the past three years, SFAF has deliberately shifted its focus away from the Bay Area; it instead now focuses on helping Pfizer Corporation open AIDS clinics in Africa at the expense of helping — by way of cutting services to — people with HIV/AIDS locally. There are lucrative antiretroviral markets to be pursued on the African continent, and Pfizer is apparently unable to do so without SFAF.  

Under the leadership of its Executive Director, SFAF created the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation as its non-profit affiliate (read subset) to help Pfizer out.  The two non-profits share the same 995 Market Street address in San Francisco, in part to better communicate with one another.

Pat Christen, Executive Director of SFAF, please meet Pat Christen, President of the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation.  That’s, right the same person desperately needed to have two job titles, although we’re expected to believe there is only one salary involved.  (TheLastWatch wonders how silly formal letters between the Executive Director and the President look.)  On some days it must be maddening to the point of bipolar distraction to have to remember whether you’re the Executive Director placing a call to the President, or vice versa.

Laughably, both non-profits claim to have no financial interests between the two organizations, expecting us to believe that. Yeah, right! (Sadly, SFAF’s and Pangaea’s auditors, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, also expect us to believe this.)

But Pangaea is only part of the story of SFAF’s decade of pandemic waste in the Bay Area. On these pages you’ll learn more about the waste that prevents real people from receiving meaningful, real services.

Since its founding, SFAF has tried to position itself as a preeminent ASO not only in San Francisco, but also nationwide, and indeed, SFAF carries a lot of weight in setting national HIV/AIDS policies.  SFAF got its national reputation after a decade of heavily funding its “public policy department,” often at the expense of funding actually useful direct services to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).