ADDIS ABABA, Nov. 10 (ENA) - Some people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWA) called upon the public at large to be well aware of the transmission of the disease and protect themselves against the pandemic.

PLWA, who are taking part in the International HIV/AIDS Conference under way here, said efforts exerted to raise public awareness on the lethal disease should further be consolidated.

Lack of ample knowledge about the disease has led the public -- particularly in the rural parts of the country -- to quarantine persons living with HIV/AIDS, they said.

"I knew that I was infected with the virus six months ago," Benyam Tesfaye said.  "As soon as I realised that I was HIV positive, I vowed to myself to teach people to make them alert against the disease," he added.

Berhane Kelkaye said on her part "my husband died of AIDS seven years ago.  When my neighbours knew that I was HIV positive they ostracised and scoffed at me".

"Currently, I teach people how they can keep away from the disease and be safe," Berhane, who is a mother of three, said.

"Being HIV positive is not a thing to be ashamed of," Mesfin Ayalew said.  "What is embarrassing is transmitting the virus to others".

"We people living with the virus are ready to work with the government in the fight against the deadly disease," Mesfin said.

Meanwhile, an official of the World Bank said.  Ethiopia ranks first in the world with the greatest number of HIV infected children.

HIV/AIDS coordinator with the bank, Dr. Debre-Work Zewde told the ongoing First International Conference on AIDS here Monday that more than 140,000 children had contracted HIV, the virus that causes the deadly disease, AIDS.

According to recent studies, Ethiopia was the 16th highest in HIV/AIDS prevalence rate among sub-Saharan African countries, she said.  There are about 2.5 million HIV infections in Ethiopia.

"Despite the alarming number and predictions, there is hope if we act now," she said, adding, "We have the tools and know-how to stop the spread of the disease."

According to Dr. Debre-Work, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa contributed one-third of the 22 million HIV infectious in Africa.

More than 700 local and foreign researchers across the world, including senior government officials and HIV-positive persons, are attending the conference being held under the theme "Fighting for Life".

AIDS and epidemiology team leader with the Ministry of Health, Dr. Hailu Negasso said on his part there are 71,000 reported AIDS cases so far.

About 90 per cent of the reported cases are adults between the ages of 20-40, he said.

Dr. Hailu said by the year 2000, about half of the country's total hospital beds would be occupied by AIDS patients.

Creating awareness among the younger generation and bringing the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on Ethiopia's all-round endeavour to the attention of the international community are some of the aims of the conference.

The conference, which has brought together the best minds around the world, is believed to help the country design effective long-term HIV/AIDS prevention polices.