Healthcare professionals are in Miami for a two-day conference on HIV/AIDS and the Latino population. 

Latino actor Erik Estrada was a guest speaker at the 2006 National Conference on Latinos and AIDS.

He stressed the importance of educating the Latino community about HIV/AIDS and getting testing for the virus. Estrada sat down for an interview with VOA and talked about the importance of getting that message out to the Latino community.

"They need to be aware of themselves. They need to be educated. They need to be taught prevention. They need to be tested," he said. "They need to be more open about that it's here. It's a disease that is here and it's affecting many in the Hispanic population."

Another participant, Frank Oldham, is the executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS. He is HIV positive.

"There is too much stigma, negative connotations, around a positive diagnosis. So the result is that people who may be positive or who are more than likely positive either they don't want to get tested or they're afraid to access treatment and care," explained Oldham.

The conference is for healthcare providers who work with Latinos, and is sponsored by Minority Healthcare Communications, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit healthcare education group.

Dr. Rhonda Hagler says more attention and federal dollars should go to treating drug abuse. She says people under the influence of drugs may engage in riskier sexual behavior that can spread HIV.

"Because we have not concentrated much on making sure we try to stem the tide of substance abuse, we continue to see the rates of HIV as they are right now in the Latino and African-American communities," she noted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says African Americans have been the hardest hit ethnic group in the United States by HIV/AIDS, making up half of those who were diagnosed as positive in 2004.

The CDC says the epidemic poses a serious threat to the Hispanic community as well. It says Hispanics made up 18 percent of those who were diagnosed with HIV-AIDS in 2004.