Pill could stop HIV "in my generation"

Uriel Loman was 23 years old when his doctor gave him a life-changing diagnosis: "We hate to tell you that you are HIV positive," he recalled.

Loman is gay and admits he was sexually experimenting and involved in risky behavior before his diagnosis. He would have been a strong candidate for the HIV prevention drug treatment known as PrEP. But he told CBS News he had no idea it existed.

"Before you were diagnosed, you had never heard of PrEP?" he was asked. "I had not," Loman said.

0104healthhivpreventionloman.jpg
Uriel Loman, left, works part-time as an HIV-prevention educator.
CBS News

His story is an example of why a strong push is underway among health care officials including the Centers for Disease Control and some public health departments to increase awareness about the once-a-day pill that can prevent HIV infection for people at very high risk of becoming infected.

If taken as directed, PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, can be more than 90 percent effective at keeping an HIV-negative person from becoming infected. It is sold under the brand name Truvada and is a combination of two HIV medicines in one pill.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada in 2012 as the first drug to reduce the risk of HIV infection, but a 2015 CDC survey found many health care providers still haven't heard of it.

"One out of every 3 primary care providers and nurses are not aware about PrEP," Dr. David Rosenthal told CBS News. Rosenthal is the medical director at the Center for Young Adult, Adolescent and Pediatric HIV at Northwell Health on Long Island, New York.

Rosenthal has been working to get the word out to his patients and other providers about the benefits of PrEP. He's especially concerned about teens and young adults like Loman, who is in an age bracket that's seen a spike in infections, even as overall HIV rates have dropped. The CDC found 13-to-24-year-olds accounted for 26 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010, the most recent data available.

"I think we can bring the new cases of HIV down so dramatically if everyone that needs to be on PrEP gets on PrEP," Rosenthal said.

Loman says if he had known PrEP were an option, it could have changed everything for him. Now 25 years old, he works part-time as an advocate at Pride for Youth, an LGBTQ services center in Bellmore, New York.

"I want to see the change, the change in my generation," Loman said.

He, too, is focused on educating young people about PrEP. He uses social media to target other young people. He's hoping his story will motivate other young people to stay safe and healthy.

Pride for Youth's director, Pete Carney, says the center puts a strong emphasis on helping young gay and bisexual men of color, who bear a disproportionate burden of HIV. The CDC found infections among them increased 20 percent from 2008 to 2010.

"PrEP in my experience, PrEP is a game changer," Carney said. "It's one of the tools we have to end the epidemic."