By Jeffrey Basinger, Director of Regional Programs, Western Colorado AIDS Project
Who would’ve thought 30 years ago there would still be a need for organizations to help individuals infected with or at risk of acquiring HIV and other diseases? Today, more than 600 people receive support through the Western Colorado AIDS Project (WestCAP), a project of Colorado Health Network Inc.
The needs of HIV-positive clients on the western slope range from help with basic life necessities, like food, utilities, housing, health insurance, to transportation assistance for a medical visit. We know when clients are actively involved in their medical care, and their HIV viral load is reduced, they are far less likely to transmit the virus to another person. This focus has led the Centers for Disease Control to now include prevention activities as part of the routine care of people, which includes Pre-Exposure-Prophylaxis (PrEP). One pill once a day can prevent HIV-negative people from becoming infected with HIV.
One of the most significant developments in prevention efforts over the recent years in Western Colorado is the implementation of a legal syringe exchange program with the approval of the Mesa County Health Department. Referred to as Access Point, the program is operated by WestCAP and is one of eight programs operating across Colorado and the only program on the Western Slope. Nationwide, states have reported syringe access programs as the single most effective intervention to stop new cases of HIV and Hepatitis C infections among people who inject drugs.
Today, more than 300 individuals are currently enrolled in the WCAP Access Point program, up 72% since 2015. The men and women participating in the program have access to free rapid HIV and Hepatitis C testing, wound care supplies, educational materials, individualized risk reduction sessions, referrals to behavioral health and substance abuse counseling and sterile injection supplies – and a site to dispose of used syringes.
Research shows that people who utilize syringe access programs are much more likely to seek out professional help and reduce the risk of blood-borne transmission. We are seeing approximately 10% of Access Point clients inquire about and receive referrals to Health Care/Substance Abuse Services.
This past Monday was National HIV Testing Day. Started in 1988, it is to create awareness, encourage people to get tested as 1 in 8 people with HIV have never tested. Getting tested is not a one-day event; WestCAP offers free walk-in testing for HIV and Hepatitis C every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 2:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. at our office at 805 Main Street in downtown Grand Junction.
Take control, take the test and know your status. Colorado is on the path to end AIDS by 2030.