The Centers for Disease Control released staggering figures when it comes to HIV on Tuesday. The agency says gay men are still at very high risk for contracting the disease and some races are at higher risk than others. This is a story about a Boston woman’s fight against HIV and AIDS that is personal.
Tracy McCallum is an HIV counselor at the Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury, she’s in a dress and blazer directing people to different parts of the clinic -- a job she’s done for years.
“From to patient care to advocacy to education is what I do now.”
As an HIV counselor, she encourages testing and prevention for the 30,000 patients who walk through the clinic doors. It's something she takes personally. And for good reason.
“Wow 22 years ago on December 17th at 3:45 pm…I received a phone call from my doctor's secretary telling me Miss …my last name was Hayes at the time….telling me Miss Hayes I’m sorry but you’re HIV positive and she hung up and that was the beginning of my journey.”
She was in shock.
“To this day, 22 years later I have no recollection of that day.”
McCallum was diagnosed over two decades ago and now counsels people with the compassion she says she deserved then. Her job is more important now than ever especially with Whittier sitting in the middle of Roxbury a predominately minority community.
The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control are grim. One out of every two gay black men, and one in four gay Hispanic men and one in 11 gay white men will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lives if diagnosis rates stay the same.
McCallum says she’s counseled hundreds to prevent the spread of the disease by sharing own her story of contracting HIV through a sexual assault.
“And if I can do that from the oldest client I see to the youngest that I see to the newest thinking about becoming sexually active then my job is complete.”
McCallum believes her efforts of promoting safe sex, abstinence, and education have made a difference. Everyone over 15 is tested for HIV at the health center. On her own journey she believes her future is bright, she’s gone from taking 6 pills daily down to 2.
“My life expectancy is 70 years old now, I’m 53.”
She wants the same for anyone diagnosed with HIV but better yet she hopes they take heed to her warning sand never contract it.
CDC officials used the release of the data to call for expanded efforts to stem HIV transmission so the predicted rates don’t become a reality.