HISTORY OF AIDSfreeAFRICA
Supported by HE Prime Minister Philemon Yang, AIDSfreeAFRICA pushed in the background until the Cameroon government succeeds in reprogramming US $80 million from The Global Fund for additional AIDS drugs. The largest crowd ever, of over 500 women gathers to hear Dr. Hodel speak on HIV and AIDS. Also for the first time, several women do not hold back making statements that reveal their status as HIV positive. AIDSfreeAFRICA signs MOU (memo of understanding) with Leaders of Tomorrow International (LOTI) planning on bringing computer training to young women in our village of Esu.
AIDSfreeAFRICA successfully ships the first full 40 foot container filled with medical supplies and equipment. Donates Science text books and laboratory glassware to the University of Bamenda. "Cick it to Cameroon" campaign starts where American kids collect useful soccer gear, cleats, jerseys, etc. to support Cameroon girls playing European football.
AIDSfreeAFRICA ships five huge crates with drug production equipment and laboratory equipment to Cameroon, donating it to Cinpharm and the University of Buea, which also receives large donation of Chemistry text books. In return Cinpharm donates large amount of medicine to AIDSfreeAFRICA to bring to rural village of Esu. AIDSfreeAFRICA establishes fruitful collaboration with Vitamin Angels, importing worm medicine, vitamin A and multi vitamin for children and pregnant women.
The year drug production starts in Cameroon. The Cameroonian government awards Rolande permanent citizenship status and the Fon (Ruler) of Esu gives 3.3 acres of land as guaranty for AIDSfreeAFRICA's projects in his village. The clinic in Esu takes off with AIDSfreeAFRICA volunteer Dr. Ildiko coming to treat 30-40 patients a day.
US Embassy business development department introduces Rolande to government officials and business men in Cameroon. Rolande meets the Prime Minister, Minister of Health, entrepreneur and philantropist Blaz Essomba, visits two companies, start-up Cinpharm and IV fluid producer SIPP. Establishes second revolving drug fund, this one in the remote village of Esu in collaboration with the locals.
AIDSfreeAFRICA establishes the first revolving drug fund in Limbe via collaboration with the German CLinic, registers AIDSfreeAFRICA as a NGO in Cameroon. Rolande receives US Astellas Humanitarian Award.
AIDSfreeAFRICA brings representative of Hoffmann La Roche to Cameroon to discuss technology transfer of one of their antiretroviral drugs. Work starts with another start-up called Meditech and an established company called Genemark that produces syrups.
Tibotec contracts AIDSfreeAFRICA to register, market, distribute an antifungal drug trating oral thrush a painful fungus infection seen in HIV positive patience.
Rolande works with the Cameroonian Baptist Convention IV fluid and ointment production unit, trains a start-up called Diamond Pharmaceuticals, and met with another start-up called Kakwa Biopharm, whose goal it was to produce malaria drugs.
Rolande travels to Kenya. In Cameroon she is received by the owner of the Mezam Polyclinic in Bamenda, North West Region.
Rolande studies successful organizations such as "The Hunger Project"; seeks coaching from Landmark Education leaders such as Constance Howlett and asks Dr. Elliott Bay to co-found the non-profit she designed and named AIDSfreeAFRICA.
Rolande volunteers to represent Servas International, a world wide peace organization, at the United Nations. There she listened to Brazil President Lula da Silva and is inspired to go to Africa to help African's in their efforts to build a pharmaceutical production industry.
AN IDEA IS BORN
AIDSfreeAFRICA was created when I asked myself two related questions: What is my life for? And what will I do when I’ve completed my doctorate in Chemistry? I have been inspired by the United Nations since the day in 1989 that I first visited the UN as a tourist. Fourteen years later, I attended a UN conference, this time as UN representative for Servas, an international peace organization I had been a member of for 15+ years. It was in that capacity, that on September 8, 2003, I had the good fortune to attend a speech by Liuz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, in which he laid out his country’s successful strategy to get a handle on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Boldly, he ordered Brazil’s pharmaceutical industry to produce affordable, generic HIV/AIDS drugs, and then began a crusade to convince the nations of the world that this is an emergency situation which calls for emergency measures. He challenged his fellow statesmen to work toward the release of existing patents that prevent the manufacture of generic and thus more affordable versions of antiretroviral drugs.
As of this writing, in 2005, Lula da Silva’s challenge has begun to show results. A few, crucial HIV/AIDS drugs have been released from patent protection for generic manufacturing in developing country’s. Today, Brazil has less than half of AIDS case predicted, down to 600 000. Half of those are on AIDS drugs.
This having been said, the fight has only just begun. The politics of AIDS still manifests in thousands of lost lives, and even with all those who are trying to make a difference, we are far from turning the tide.
However, I had found the answer to my questions.
A PROJECT IS BORN
A year later in 2004, unsure of how to proceed after my $15 million grant proposal had been rejected by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, my Servas friend Gary Sealey gave me a simple, yet valuable piece of advice. He said "you need a community to pull this off," and I knew just were to go to. The Self Expression Leadership Program offered by Landmark Education Corporation offered what I needed. On Monday August 2, 2004 I submitted AIDSfreeAFRICA to the 75 participants of my Landmark Education seminar as my mandatory community project. I did not expect it to be accepted, it was just too off the walls. But it was accepted, and the rest -- as they say -- is history.
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE COMMUNITY
Carolyn Hoffman, of White Plains NY gave me an article from The Progressive, entitled "Withholding the Cure" by N. A. Siegel. It chronicles Bill Haddad’s relentless quest "to bring inexpensive medication to dying populations in the Third World" I later found Haddad, now CEO of Biogenerics and still on his mission, right here in Westchester NY. Our conversations have been immensely inspiring and supportive.
Marlene Rubins introduced me to Michael Steuerman, a member of The Hunger Project, who, in turn, introduced me to Hunger Project Staff member, Jennifer R. Thomson. Jennifer and I met and she told me about her experiences setting up a micro loan system in Uganda as well as HIV/AIDS prevention programs implemented by The Hunger Project. An experienced traveler to Africa, she generously shared her knowledge, right down to her favorite kind of malaria pills and which ones to avoid.
In June of 2004 I visited my friend and long time mentor Dr. Gunda Georg, Professor for Medicinal Chemistry at the University in Kansas in Lawrence KS. Over lunch, talking about AIDSfreeAFRICA she mentioned that she has a friend who visits Cameroon three times a year. Knowing only that friends name and phone number, I called her on August 1 and told her about AIDSfreeAFRICA and that Gunda had referred her to me because of her knowledge of Cameroon. She immediately asked me what I needed. I responded that I was looking for a place in Africa; people that want to be trained, teachers that can do the training, water, electricity and a connection to the government. She just kept saying "Yes, we have that." Today, Carole McArthur, M.D., Ph.D. is AIDSfreeAFRICA’s vice president and strongest arm. At that point, I had never even been to Africa. Carol was the one who made this venture exist in the real world. She created a possible home for us to start from.
September 9, 2004 was the annual United Nations, Department of Public Information/ Non-Governmental Organizations conference. There, I met Paul Hoeffel, head of DPI, Peter McDermott, Chief of the HIV/AIDS program at UNICEF and Ruth Bamela Engo, who chairs a workshop on HIV/AIDS prevention. When I told Ruth about AIDSfreeAFRICA’s mission, she gave me a response that still rings in my ears: “Yes, give our children the job [of providing antiretrovirals].” A conference participant, Justine Madiesse Miaffo, president of A.F.S.A.F. embraced me warmly and welcomed AIDSfreeAFRICA to Cameroon. Ever since that day we have been exchanging e-mails. She, by the way, runs an orphanage and is desperately looking for sponsorship and advocacy from abroad.
Also in September of 2004, April, a participant in my Self Expression Leadership Program at Landmark Education, asked her father, Clair, to speak with me. Clair is a retired Chemist living in California and -- wanting to stay retired -- wasn’t really interested in anything that looked like work. He was kind enough, however, to refer me to his friend Bill Szkrybalo, from Nevada, who is a consultant to the Pharmaceutical Industry and a friend of Dr. Alan Goldhammer. Bill told Alan about AIDSfreeAFRICA and encouraged me to call him to talk about our common concerns and interests. In a nutshell, those are concerns regarding criminal wrongdoings such as the manufacture of fake copies of drugs, or the re-importation of drugs earmarked for developing countries back into developed ones. Alan happened to mention that Pharmaceutical Philanthropy may be willing to support AIDSfreeAFRICA in more ways than I would have imagined.
On Oct 22, 2004, I met with Rachael Cohen from MSF, Doctors without Borders, to discuss their experience in Cameroon delivering and administering antiretroviral drugs to up to 1000 patients every day. MSF is one of the key organizations in Cameroon capable of dispensing these drugs.
On Nov 2004, Dena Daglian joined our Board of Directors representing AIDSfreeAFRICA at Zonta International. Dena also worked on the design of our web site. She wanted to become a plastic surgeon. When she first learned of AIDSfreeAFRICA she spontaneously said: WOW, this is so much better than plastic surgery. Today she studies Medicine in Israel and has not decided on "emergency medicine" or "Ob/Gyn". I agree, this is much more useful in Africa.
I met Karen Siegel President of the Queens Chapter of Zonta, Int. at their Christmas gathering on Dec. 10, 2004. She stated that their club might be willing to make a financial contribution and assist AIDSfreeAFRICA through its worldwide network of chapters, including one in Cameroon.
Dec 17, 2004, Donna Graham, a participant in my Self Expression Leadership Program e-mailed me about Tony Tate, who works on children’s rights in Africa for Human Rights Watch. Tony and I then met to discuss possible common interests. His organization had just started thinking about issues surrounding the right to access life saving medicines, and -- since there are limited amounts of drugs available -- the very serious questions of who gets the drug, who dies and who should make those decisions.
Dec 22, 2004, at a Christmas party at one of my fellow graduate students Elena Ferloni’s place in Queens, I met Craig Mills. He works for the Ford Foundation and offered his expertise on preparing a successful grant application.
In February of 2005, I received a private donation from Gerlinde Bachmann, who was my social worker when I was a teenager apprenticing at BASF, a large chemical company in Germany. She used to introduce me to people as her “adopted daughter,” and she was my mother until I met my actual birth mother some five years later behind the Berlin Wall in Potsdam.
Elliott Bay, currently Director of Manufacturing at Emisphere Technologies, Elmsford NY, (where I had once worked in the research department) joined the board of directors of AIDSfreeAFRICA. I especially appreciate his leadership and management style. Plus, his generous offer of trouble shooting and spare parts will be invaluable down the road, as resources in Africa are few and far between and production will inevitably breakdown from time to time.
April 19, 2005, I successfully defend my dissertation on “Synthesis and Characterizations of Dendronized Nanomaterials” and earn my Ph.D. in Chemistry from City University of New York, Queens College, mentor Dr. Harry D. Gafney.
May, 2005, my wedding shower and wedding gifts in form of cash donations to AIDSfreeAFRICA, in addition to generous gifts from my mother Erna Fischer and my adoptive mother, Gerlinde Bachmann enables me to pay operating expenses, including application fees to incorporate and apply for non-profit status. Most important it enabled me to conduct a three month needs assessment in Kenya and Cameroon. This trip laid the foundation of our work and collaborations.
June 9, 2005: We submit the first grant proposal to the Lindbergh Foundation. The grant is endorsed by Carole McArthur and Gary Sealey. As of today, August 8, 2005, we made it into round two of the four part review process. The final decision is expected for April 2006.
June 12, 2005: We launch our web site http://chem.qc.edu/~aidsfree (today it iswww.AIDSfreeAFRICA.org ) . Dr. Cherice Evans, Assistant Professor at Queens College, generously donates web space and expertise on how to get our site up and running.
In June of 2005, Liz Heinlein, a participant in my Self Expression Leadership Program, (who can be found under “directors” at http://www.freemarketfilms.com arranged a meeting with her producer, Anne Rainey Rokahr. The purpose was to discuss their offer to come to Cameroon and shoot a promotional video that can help us raise US$6.1 million for a prefabricated modular laboratory to produce antiretroviral drugs immediately.
On June 13, 2005, I attended the East Pack Expo at the Jarvis Center in NYC, to look for a blister packaging machine. I met a very friendly sales woman, Amy Siegel, who later joined AIDSfreeAFRICA as a volunteer. A month later we met to discuss her possible contributions in the area of management, fundraising, and marketing.
Deb Sledgianowski volunteers to write data management software for AIDSfreeAFRICA.
July 9 2005: Dr. Paul Achu, Bamenda, of Cameroon joins the Board of Directors. He sends a proposal for a mission statement that encompasses all that we stand for. Together with Marlene Rubins, we fuse the old mission statement with Paul’s proposed one to finalize AIDSfreeAFRICA’s mission statement.
A CORPORATION IS BORN
July 18: I meet with Board of Directors member Elliott Bay to cosign the articles of incorporation for submission to the Secretary of the State of New York. The immediate goal is to obtain 501(c) (3) non-for-profit status from the IRS (Internal Revenue Service).
September 17: Kenya visiting an orphanage in the slums of Nakuru. Visit Bakara, Nairoby's second largest slum of 1/2 a million inhabitants. Spent time with the German Doctors, a German based humanitarian organization that sends medical doctors to the slums.
October 15: arrive in Douala, Cameroon. See 2005 trip.
December 13, 2005: back home, write grants, talk about Africa, speaking engagements, present power point pictures, fundraise and network.
If you would like to join the AIDSfreeAFRICA team or make a donation, please feel free to contact any of our board of directors’ member at: RRHodel@aol.com