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Home Corridor Community Corner // Open Aid Alliance

open aid allianceby SARAH LIPSCOMB

Open Aid Alliance is a Missoula based nonprofit that has been serving the community for 28 years. We provide important services to ensure the health and well-being of the Missoula community and the surrounding areas.

Those services include: donation-based HIV and hepatitis C testing, community education and outreach, a syringe exchange program, and services for people in the community infected and affected by HIV and hepatitis C, including housing assistance, support groups, and case management.

Many of the individuals we serve are traditionally underserved, marginalized, and hard to reach, but deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Our non- judgmental approach, coupled with a harm reduction philosophy, encourages everyone who walks through our doors to feel comfortable seeking the information and services they need.

We officially launched the OAA Syringe Exchange Program in March, 2013 to combat hepatitis C infections in the Missoula community. Hepatitis C (HCV) is a silent epidemic in our state, with over 30% of the high risk individuals we tested in 2013 receiving positive HCV antibody test results.

Most people do not have accurate knowledge of HCV infection and are unaware of the risk factors. It is a greatly misunderstood disease. The positive response to our syringe exchange program has been overwhelming, and our goals are simple:

1) Slow the spread of hepatitis C

2) Increase access to hepatitis C testing and counseling

3) Increase access to health care, drug treatment, and detox for people who inject drugs

4) Decrease the prevalence of used syringes that may be unsafely discarded in our community, thus increasing safety of community members

5) Perpetuate the theories and methods of harm reduction, where all people are treated with respect and dignity regardless of their drug use behavior or readiness to abstain from drug use. The individuals who visit our office to dispose of used syringes and pick up new syringes are so grateful for this service.

One young woman commented to one of our staff members, “You’re the first person that knows I’m a junkie and still looks me in the eye and smiles.” We not only provide participants with sterile needles, sterile water, antibiotic ointment, cottons, tourniquets, bleach kits, condoms,
safe disposal and other harm reduction supplies, but we offer a safe, judgment-free environment where they are treated with dignity and respect.

A syringe exchange program participant recently said, “It’s support. No one here is judging you and saying, “Whaddya want, junkie?” The truth is, we serve people from all walks of life; young and old, rich and poor, male and female.

The Rockin’ Race for AIDS Awareness on September 29th is an opportunity for you to show your support for Open Aid Alliance, the work we do, and the people we serve. Your support does not have to be monetary. Your support can be volunteering at the Rockin’ Race, or simply telling a friend about the services we provide. Community support means so much to an agency like Open Aid Alliance, and we are ever grateful for the support and encouragement the Missoula community has shown us in the past.

The Rockin’ Race features a 5k and 10k run or walk and live, local bands on the race course. This event is a blast for serious runners and those just out to have fun, but we hope you know why we need your support to do this wild race in Missoula. The Rockin’ Race provides vital funds for people living with HIV in western
Montana, it guarantees we can offer free or very low cost HIV testing and it keeps our syringe exchange program running. You can register for the Rockin’ Race for AIDS Awareness, learn more about our programs, schedule an HIV or hepatitis C test, and find other resources on our website, www.OpenAidAlliance.org. Or stop by the office sometime.

We are always willing to give informational tours and talk about the services we offer. For more information on the principles of harm reduction visit: www.harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/.