Rolande Hodel is one of Ossining's unsung heroes. In 2005 Hodel started the nonprofit organization AIDSfreeAFRICA, which works towards increasing the production of pharmaceuticals in Africa. Hodel has been chosen as Greatest Person of the Day on The Huffington Post. This feature spotlights individuals across the country who are making a difference in their communities. These are people who inspire and energize others to strengthen their communities and improve lives.
Hodel was born in Germany, but moved to Kansas where she received her master's degree in inorganic chemistry from the University of Kansas. Out of college she landed a job at Nano Crystal Technology in New York. From there she got her PhD in organic chemistry at the City University of New York. After college, while working for a pharmaceutical company, Hodel got the idea for AIDSfreeAFRICA .
After she formed AIDSfreeAFRICA in 2005, Hodel visited Kenya and Cameroon for the first time. In June 2010 U.S. Embassy officials introduced Hodel to representatives from the company Cinpharm. Hodel worked with Cinpharm to begin producing generic essential drugs in Cameroon. Those essential drugs include antibiotics, antifungals, painkillers and IV fluids.
In October 2010 Hodel's dream of drug production in Cameroon became a reality. Her organization is now working to keep production going.
Cinpharm and AIDSfreeAFRICA have run into many obstacles. They include the fact that Cameroon has no infrastructure to support drug production. Another issue is that all of the parts for the drug-producing equipment and the chemicals for the drugs must be acquired from other countries. "The challenge right now is to keep them going. To help them with equipment and manpower and supplying the people to help run the factory," said Hodel.
AIDSfreeAFRICA is also working on increasing drug access in rural areas. “If you live in the big cities you can pretty much get drugs. But as soon as you leave the five big cities in Cameroon the access to medicine becomes really difficult,” said Hodel. The key issue is transportation. While rural residents may be able to afford a drug, it can cost too much to get a ride to one of the big cities where the drugs are.
While AIDSfreeAFRICA focuses its efforts on essential drugs, organizations such as The Global Fund focus on providing the AIDS drug Triomune. “The Fund was created by many countries, especially America and Europe, to collect donations and to buy these drugs," said Hodel. "Former President Bush’s United State’s President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) is part of The Global Fund."
AIDSfreeAFRICA has more than 100 volunteers in the United States and Cameroon. Hodel's organization continually raises funds from industry, private donors, foundations, as well as friends and family. In addition, Hodel raises a large share of AIDSfreeAFRICA's funds from her own speaking events.
The money raised goes towards drug funds, AIDS testing, mosquito nets, medical supplies and medicine in AIDSfreeAFRICA's adopted village of 30,000 people. Right now the organization has a doctor in Esu that treats as many as 40 patients a day. The doctor is on track to help 1,800 people during their two-month stay. Hodel's organization will also be AIDS testing 3,000 people a year, for the next five years.
Hodel says one the thing that keeps her motivated is the positive effect that her organization is having on people in Cameroon. "You see on a daily basis how we touch people and help people and save lives."