“What do I want to do with my life,” Rolande Hodel asked herself. The answer came when she attended a speech at the United Nations in which she heard about efforts to contain the AIDS epidemic. “When I heard that speech,” she said, “I knew I wanted to use my background to make a difference in this area.”
Hodel, who received her doctorate in chemistry, neither wanted to be a lab coat-clad university or corporate scientist. So she launched AIDSfreeAFRICA, which she developed out of her community project in a Landmark program. The basic framework of her mission came quickly: Africa, where 8,500 people die of AIDS every day, would be the focus. The goal would be to empower Africans to become self-sufficient in producing pharmaceuticals.
But as Hodel soon learned, deciding on a mission is one thing, figuring out how to tackle one of this century’s most widespread health problems is quite another. A friend gave her a simple—yet valuable—piece of advice. “He told me, ‘You need a community to pull this off,’” she recalls. “It was like a light bulb went off.”
Since then, AIDSfreeAFRICA has successfully negotiated with pharmaceutical companies in Belgium and other countries to supply needed medications, worked to remodel a facility that is slated to become a drug manufacturing center, and ensured that all the legal groundwork is in place for the manufacture of drugs.
Hodel realizes that she faces an uphill battle when it comes to AIDS in Africa. But in founding AIDSfreeAFRICA, she believes she has helped to establish a roadmap for contending with the disease, one that starts with empowerment and self-sufficiency.