UCSF’s Connection to AIDS Walk San Francisco Runs Deep

By Eric Brooks

Sunny weather, smiling faces and Golden Gate Park provided the ideal setting for AIDS Walk San Francisco on Sunday, with UCSF’s presence found at every turn.

In the end, UCSF blew away its $40,000 goal.

Nine teams raised more than $60,000 led by UCSF 360: Positive Care and Women’s HIV, which collected an astounding $29,160.

UCSF’s participation in AIDS Walk San Francisco goes back to the very beginning. The University has been involved in the event every year since its inception in 1987. 

A woman turns away from the camera to show the back of her shirt, which reads "40 Years of Excellence in HIV Care."
Susa Coffey, MD, a physician at the UCSF Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine at ZSFG, turns away from the camera to show off the back of her shirt, which reads “40 Years of Excellence in HIV Care.” Photo by Noah Berger

UCSF’s connection to the AIDS crisis predates the walk itself with the pioneering work of Ward 86. The clinic opened at the dawn of the epidemic on Jan. 1, 1983, serving a community in desperate need of answers and later developing the celebrated San Francisco model of HIV care. Today, its vital work is known worldwide and continues to evolve to meet new challenges. 

Leading Ward 86 through clinical innovations is Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, its medical director since 2014.

“I've not only had our clinic participate in the AIDS Walk, but I’ve been very grateful to have our clinic as a beneficiary,” Gandhi said. Among the Ward 86 programs initially funded by money raised at AIDS Walk is Golden Compass, which is aimed at care for aging patients with HIV (PWH). The program launched in 2017.

Monica Gandhi smiles as she poses for a selfie with a Ward 86 patient.
Troy Brunet, a Ward 86 patient for 26 years, takes a selfie with Ward 86 Medical Director Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH. Photo by Noah Berger

Gandhi’s Ward 86 team raised $3,395 for AIDS Walk.

“I feel really honored to be medical director of Ward 86,” Gandhi said. “It is probably in my life one of the most meaningful things I’ve been able to do. It has such a long history with the movement. It’s not just the medical history, it’s the social justice part of the movement. It’s amazing to be part of Ward 86.”

Gandhi — whose first AIDS Walk was in 2001 when she was an infectious disease fellow at UCSF — spoke to the crowd ahead of Sunday’s walk, outlining the need for further AIDS funding and research in the wake of a 2022 report from UNAIDS listing the world’s response to the epidemic as “In Danger.”

The reason? The COVID-19 pandemic and other global crises, the report outlined.

“We had major setbacks to HIV during COVID,” said Gandhi, also the director of the UCSF-Bay Area Center for AIDS Research. “Everyone’s attention was diverted.” As of 2022, 39 million people were living with HIV. An estimated 1.3 million people were newly infected during the year, at least half a million more than global targets.

A memorial poster for Red Mangio with his face in the center and 2-dollar bills with personal notes taped around it.
A framed collage at UCSF’s AIDS Walk booth commemorated longtime UCSF employee Red Mangio, who died in 2006 after battling AIDS. Photo by Noah Berger

For Jen Dowd-Kim, UCSF associate director of retail, conference services, and arts & events, AIDS Walk has a very personal meaning and purpose following the death of her UCSF Campus Life Services colleague Red Mangio due to complications from AIDS in 2006.

“My motivation is Red,” she said. “He was a big part of the motivation for a lot of people to join the UCSF AIDS Walk team before he died. He was a huge campus cheerleader.”

Mangio’s spirit was undeniably felt at AIDS Walk on Sunday, as a number of UCSF staff pointed to him as inspiration. A collage of his photos was placed in front of the UCSF tent.

“It’s one of my favorite days of the year,” said Dowd-Kim, who serves as a member of the UCSF AIDS Walk Steering Committee. “To me, it's better than Christmas. You're with your colleagues and like-minded people raising money for a great cause.”

Like many events, AIDS Walk San Francisco went virtual in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It made an in-person comeback in 2022, though attendance and fundraising numbers haven’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. That didn’t dampen Dowd-Kim’s spirits on Sunday. As she proudly has done in past years, the Campus Life Services team captain sported a multi-colored tutu as part of her outfit along with her infant daughter, Journey, who was making her AIDS Walk debut. Even her dog BetteMidler (one word) went along for the ride.

To me, it’s better than Christmas. You’re with your colleagues and like-minded people raising money for a great cause.

Jen Dowd-Kim

“I find it to be a very joyful day, a very positive day,” Dowd-Kim said. “Just the mood and the tone of the messaging and the people. Everybody is usually upbeat, very positive and happy to be there. When I leave, my soul is filled.”

Sunday marked Dowd-Kim’s 25th AIDS Walk.

Another long-time UCSF attendee is Robert Mansfield, a UCSF executive assistant who serves as treasurer on the AIDS Walk San Francisco Board. He’s been coming to the event for almost three decades, first attending the fundraising event after a close friend passed away due to complications from the disease. 

“I thought this was going to be a big, sad affair,” Mansfield said. “I got here and people were laughing and dancing. It was a celebration. I really bought into that. What a wonderful idea it is to celebrate things rather than mourn. I’ve come every year since then.”

AIDS Walk San Francisco will continue to take donations until August 25, 2023. To help support Bay Area programs and services that benefit people living with HIV/AIDS, please visit AIDS Walk San Francisco.

A large crowd of UCSFers poses for a group photo with a sign that reads AIDS Walk San Francisco and a huge UCSF banner
UCSF faculty, staff and community members gather and cheer before starting their walk. Photo by Noah Berger