ATLANTA -- The spread of AIDS among blacks and other minorities is becoming a major political issue as health officials and minority leaders grow increasingly concerned that the poorest members of society are not receiving adequate care or enough preventive information on how to stem the disease.

At the first meeting held by federal Centers for Disease Control on AIDS and minorities, a caucus of black leaders and a separate caucus of Hispanic leaders accused the federal government of "a lack of sensitivity" to minorities and of failing to seek advice from the minority communities in developing government programs.

While homosexual white men remain the population most devastated by acquired immune deficiency syndrome, they also have been the most successful at rallying political support and using public information campaigns to modify their behavior and protect themselves against the virus that causes AIDS.

This has not been the case in the black and Hispanic communities. But now, with a disproportionate increase of the disease in minority populations, a significant shift in public attitudes is taking place.

"Blacks and Latinos are starting to say that this is our problem," said Dr. Herbert W. Nickens, director of the Public Health Service's Office of Minority Health. "AIDS is on everyone's mind."

At the conference here last weekend, the diversities between the different subgroups within the black and Hispanic communities made it difficult for a consensus to emerge. A small debate even broke out during one discussion over whether citizens of Spanish descent should be called Hispanics or Latinos.

What's more, leaders in the minority communities have only recently been willing to grapple with the complicated cultural and emotional issues associated with AIDS. Three or four years ago, said Nickens, if someone stood up and said that AIDS was a minority problem, he would have been labeled a racist.

Several black leaders said blacks have been reluctant to take on the stigma of AIDS. "We are poor. We are black. We have teen-age pregnancy. High blood pressure," said Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta. "We are not going to be stigmatized by this."

Whether or not blacks and Hispanics want to admit that AIDS is increasingly their problem, the statistics say it is.According to the Centers for Disease Control, minorities make up less than one fifth of the country's population but account for more than one third of the AIDS cases.

The problem is worse for minority women and children: Nearly 80 percent of all the children with AIDS are either black or Hispanic, and more than 70 percent of all women with AIDS are members of a minority group.

Intravenous drug abuse is the key. While 12 percent of white men with AIDS abuse intravenous drugs, some 40 percent of black and Hispanic men with AIDS abuse drugs. For white women with AIDS, 48 percent either abuse drugs or are the sexual partners of drug addicts; for black women with AIDS, it is 70 percent, and for Hispanic women, 83 percent.

Two thirds of black children and three quarters of Hispanic infants with AIDS contracted the disease while still in the womb of a mother who either abused drugs or was a sexual partner of a drug addict, compared with one third of infected white babies.

"We are talking about the survival of our young people," said Dr. Louis Sullivan, president of Morehouse Medical School in Atlanta. "This is a disease that is devastating. We cannot bury our heads in the sand."

But just getting AIDS on the agenda of minority organizations already overwhelmed by issues of poverty, unemployment, insufficient education and other problems is not easy, minority leaders said. There are cultural obstacles to overcome.

First, there is the issue of homosexuality. The black community, especially the black churches, have a difficult time accepting black men who admit they are homosexual. "Homosexuality doesn't fit the image of a full-blooded American black man," said one conference participant.

"AIDS was identified as a homosexual disease so black folks didn't want to get involved with it at all," Lowery said.

Since black men are reluctant to identify themselves as homosexual, they will tend not to see themselves as being in danger. That makes them more difficult to reach with public information campaigns to change behavior, health officials said.

Besides, for the minority community, AIDS is not predominately a homosexual disease. "Fully half of the black and Hispanic persons with AIDS are heterosexual, compared to less than 15 percent of the white cases," said Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, CDC deputy director. "AIDS may be said to already be a problem in black and Hispanic heterosexual communities."

Intravenous drug abusers are not thought of much more kindly by the black community, especially since they often prey on people in their own neighborhoods to support their habit, Lowery said.

Drug abusers are also hard to help through traditional public health approaches. D.C. Health Commissioner Dr. Reed Tuckson said that while drug abusers are highly organized to distribute their product, they are outside of the rest of society and extremely difficult to reach with AIDS information.

Other problems that make AIDS education more difficult among minority populations, the experts said, include lower educational levels, poverty, poor access to health care and a general distrust of federal officials.

The Hispanic community suffers similar problems with drug abuse, poverty and lower educational levels, but these problems are compounded by language and cultural barriers from their countries of origin. They also are suspicious of federal officials, whom they frequently must confront in immigration cases.

In addition, like the conservatism of the black churches, most Hispanics belong to the Roman Catholic Church, which has similar struggles with homosexuality.

Even if the cultural problems could be easily overcome, minority leaders at the Atlanta conference complained that the federal government had failed to make sufficient resources available for minoritiy groups attempting slow the virus's spread.

For example, there reportedly are more intravenous drug abusers seeking treatment than there are spaces in programs to help them beat their addiction. Some addicts reportedly have to wait months for a slot in a drug treatment program.

Last month, Congress appropriated $7 million for minority programs, but the CDC was criticized by members of a caucus of black and Hispanic leaders at the meeting because the money will be spent by state health departments, not by grass roots minority groups themselves.

CDC director James Mason said the hands of his agency are tied by the bureaucratic process requiring the $7 million to be spent before the fiscal year ends Oct. 1. This limits the time available for competitive bidding.

Next year, another $7 million will be sent to the states for minority programs, in addition to $3 million more earmarked for community organizations themselves. Mason said more minority input will be sought.

While this is a start, some leaders said, it is not much. And money alone may not be enough, Nickens said. It will take large-scale planning and programming organization to reach huge segments of the population. "You are talking about a Manhattan project on {modifying} drug and sexual behaviors."

That may take a long time. The hazards of cigarettes were identifed in the 1950s, but only now are smoking behaviors widely changing. "It is a lot easier to develop a laser or a superconductor than it is to change people's sexual behavior," Nickens said. "It's even more difficult with minorities."

Some projects to get the AIDS message to the minority communities already are under way. The District health department has staff members going into city bars to spread the word about safe sex, and other staffers spreading the word among prostitutes.

Tuckson is trying to get others into the drug shooting galleries to teach about clean needles. But even he admits the impact has been limited because not enough individuals are being reached. Tuckson now is working on an advertising project to sell the word about safe sex and avoiding drugs just as companies sell tennis shoes and beverages.

The Morehouse Medical School, a black medical college in Atlanta, recently received funding from the Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, Calif., to run a national health promotion program, including AIDS, for minority communities in 15 eastern states, including Maryland and Virginia.

"We are trying to find better ways to reach the black community and get them to act on it," said Morehouse president Sullivan.

Meanwhile, minority leaders are bracing themselves for the expected impact of AIDS in their communities over the next few years.

"We are trying to get black folks to understand that they are an endangered species," SCLC's Lowery said. "When white America has a head cold, black America has pneumonia. AIDS will not be an exception."