Passionate Volunteers Take HIV Prevention to Their Neighbors in Namibia

A blanket of yellow eshosholo flowers covers the hillside neighborhood where Elizabeth Eichas and her husband make their home. The flowers are a bright, hopeful reminder of Namibia’s long rainy season. From her hilltop home, Eichas, who is HIV positive, spreads a different kind of hope through her work as volunteer HIV prevention counselor, or “Passionate,” with the CDC-supported Development Aid People-to-People, called DAPP for short.

DAPP manages a national network of paid Field Officers and volunteers like Eichas through a program called Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE). DAPP Field Officers and Passionates play a critical role in referring people to HIV counseling and testing services.

“The name ‘Passionates’ comes from what we appeal to in people,” says DAPP Namibia Director Kirsten Moeller-Jensen, who has worked with DAPP in southern Africa for the last 15 years. “These volunteers—and the Field Officers—have a passionate heart or their community. Because that’s what it demands, isn’t it?”

Elizabeth Eichas, DAPP Passionate

DAPP Field Officers and Passionates like Eichas have helped families understand the importance of seeking treatment and facing the disease. “People are not hiding sick family members anymore,” says Hirja Iipinge, who is HIV-positive and pregnant with her second child. Iipinge wasn’t aware of her HIV status until she received a visit from a DAPP member.

“People need information, especially about something they can’t talk about, something that is taboo,” says TCE DAPP supervisor Bikkie Eric Seolwane. “Where there are taboos, you’ll find suffering. Because Field Officers come from the same community, they’ve had to go through the same process as their clients—learning to speak openly about HIV and have the confidence and courage to address these taboos.”

DAPP’s 400 trained Field Officers in Namibia each support up to 2,000 people through daily household visits. Over a three-year period, Field Officers will meet several times with each household in their catchment area.

As PEPFAR evolves into the cornerstone program in President Barack Obama’s Global Health Initiative, PEPFAR, the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services, and DAPP are looking for ways to expand the services provided by the network of Field Officers and Passionates. Field officers have already distributed insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria and provided information about immunization campaigns to address other health issues.

“DAPP has a great ability to collaborate with other partners,” says CDC Namibia Prevention Advisor Nick DeLuca. “It’s a great way to get out information and referrals to other services like the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, HIV testing, male circumcision, and treatment.”