QUITO, ECUADOR -- Frowning, uniformed soldiers stand in the doorways with submachine guns. The Ecuadorian government decided to provide security for the first international conference on AIDS in Latin America in part because there of all the television equipment crammed into the Hotel Colon International.

On the second day, one of those gun-toting guards fills in for an usher and directs people to their seats. "Over there. Sit over there," he tells the incoming audience with a wave of his hand. No one argues. :: :: ::

This conference is an experiment in international public education. In the past, regional meetings organized by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization would gather small numbers of scientists in wood-paneled rooms with the flags of every nation in the background. After the conference, the conclusions would be written and distributed, taking a year or more.

But this conference is a high-tech extravaganza video-linked by satellite to an estimated 60,000 physicians and health care workers in some 600 cities throughout the Americas.

Officials here are clearly pleased. The teleconference proves that satellite and TV technology can allow scientists and physicians throughout the world to participate in a major health meeting.

"It will turn WHO on its ear," says Ronald St. John, director of PAHO's AIDS program. :: :: ::

Everyone carries portable radio receivers that allow them to hear simultaneous translations of the proceedings in Spanish, French, Portuguese and English.

The questions start coming in from distant cities, and most are predictable: When will a vaccine be ready? (Mid-1990s, at the earliest.) How easy is it to spread the disease? (Not easy . . . by sex and blood contamination only.) Can mosquitos and bedbugs transmit the disease? (No.) Household pets? (No.) Was AIDS created by the CIA or the KGB? (No.)

And then: How should a dead AIDS victim be treated? In some cultures, bodies of dead relatives are normally brought back into the home for varying periods of time, leading to fears that AIDS might be transmitted.

Dr. George Rutherford, an AIDS expert from the San Francisco City Health Department, reassures the audience that "within the bounds of what you can do legally, a cadaver can't spread the AIDS virus."

Where did AIDS originate? Many researchers believe it arose in Africa, and it's a question that makes Dr. S.I. Okwara of the National Committee for the Prevention of AIDS in Entebbe, Uganda, bristle. "We are faced with a problem," he says. "There is a snake in the house. Do you ask where the snake came from? {The question should be} what action should come now that the snake is in the house?" :: :: ::

Time out to go to a penåa -- a garage-like night club of rough-hewn wooden walls and the smell of pitch; a band with guitars made of armadillo shells and Indian flute-pipes; a variety of light and dark rums. PAHO is sponsoring this party, and the crowd of AIDS experts huddles around low plank tables and listens to the the beat of the Spanish Top 40. Back at the hotel's casino disco, the contrast is startling: The music of Madonna pulsates throughout the bar. :: :: ::

Dr. Yamil Kouri of the Harvard Institute for International Development in Cambridge, Mass., who spent years in Castro's prisons, presents his "Quito Declaration": Ten percent of the debts of developing countries should be excused. And 10 percent of the U.S. and Soviet military budgets should be diverted to AIDS research and assistance. He gets a spontaneous ovation. :: :: ::

At every AIDS conference, the talk inevitably turns to sex, condoms and monogamy. Getting people to use condoms is a real problem. Getting people to stay in a monogamous relationship may be only slightly easier. In Uganda, the government has launched a program called "zero grazing," Okwara says. "We want people to graze in one field all the time."