About 2,000 AIDS researchers and activists from around the globe gathered in Oakland on Monday for a conference to discuss disturbing trends on who is at risk for the disease.

The American Foundation for AIDS Research chose Oakland as the site for its three-day conference to highlight this new face of HIV/AIDS — a face that is increasingly African American, Latino and female.

"Unfortunately, Oakland represents the future of AIDS in the United States — a side of the epidemic increasingly unseen by politicians, the media and the general public," said Dr. Mervyn Silverman, conference chairman.

On Wednesday, AmfAR will host a town hall meeting open to the public at the Oakland Marriott City Center from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Alameda County in 1998 became the first county in the nation to declare a state of emer-gency on HIV/AIDS because of rising infection rates among African Americans.

In 2003, the cumulative num-ber of AIDS cases among African Americans in the county surpassed whites. African Americans living in Oakland have an overall AIDS rate three times greater than whites and Latinos. African-American women now have the fastest-growing infectionrate of any group in the county.

The rest of the nation is following Alameda County's lead. Although the HIV infection rate remains steady at 40,000 new infections per year, an increasing number of the newly infected are young, minority and female.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, in her keynote address to the conference, stressed the need to address the underlying factors that make some groups more vulnerable to the disease, such as poverty.

Dr. William King, visiting associate physician at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that one major problem in treating African Americans is mistrust of the health care system. This mistrust stems from a history of betrayals such as the medical experiments on poor black farmers in Alabama from the 1930s to the 1970s, known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, King said.

Low-income and minority populations also don't have equal access to cutting-edge drug treatments, King said.

"A lot of times patients say that news about new antiviral treatments doesn't come into their neighborhoods," King said.

Still, new drugs do offer hope, said Dr. Calvin Colvin of the Community Research Initiative of New England in Boston.

HIV/AIDS treatments are moving away from multipill regimens to once-a-day or even once-a-week pills, often with fewer side effects.

"We need medications people can live on, not just tolerate," Colvin said.

Researchers are also looking at whether people living with HIV can take long- or short-term breaks from their medications.

"We're learning that some of our medications are so good that daily adherence isn't necessary," Colvin said.

AmFAR released a Harris Interactive Poll indicating that patients are willing to try injectable drug treatments, provided they will get more health benefits and fewer side effects. By contrast, 80 percent of HIV/AIDS physicians surveyed said they had major reservations about prescribing injectable medication because of concerns about compliance.

The injectable drug enfuvirtide, brand name Fuzeon, is used in combination with oral medications in patients who have not responded well to other antiviral drugs.

It is injected twice a day and works by stopping HIV from entering healthy cells.

Contact Rebecca Vesely at rvesely@angnewspapers.com.