South Padre Island (KFXV) — The Valley Aids Council hosts its third annual National Latino HIV Conference in an effort to raise awareness on the growing epidemic.

Doctors, social workers and educators from the U.S. and Mexico among the nearly 500 participants.

The lack of this type of events for health care and service providers working with latinos living with HIV kickstarted the Valley Aids Council plan to host the first of its kind.

HIV continues to be a serious health threat for the hispanic community..enough reason for experts to develop new strategies in addressing the disease.

In the Rio Grande Valley, from January to March of this year, the number of new HIV cases increased by 31 percent.

The valley continues to report one of the highest rates compared to the rest of the state, including the nation.  However, it is also a topic many refuse to speak about.

The Valley Aids Council offers free HIV and STI testing at their locations in Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen.

For more information you can also visit their website at ValleyAIDS.org