IN a year which saw a child with the AIDS virus barred from his school and an HIV-positive dentist admit he continued treating his patients after his diagnosis, at last it was established: management of AIDS must go to the top of the public health agenda if the territory is to maintain any control over the spread of the virus. This week, with the publication of a survey commissioned by the Hongkong AIDS Foundation, further evidence emerged which demonstrates that the incidence of AIDS is about to balloon into a major health problem. It is no longer the domain of three high-risk groups - prostitutes, drug users and homosexuals - but also of women in long-term marriages and partnerships. The survey, compiled by the Hongkong AIDS Foundation and set to be distributed later this month, reveals that more than 100,000 Hongkong men visit prostitutes or have sexual relationships with individuals other than their acknowledged partner. ''It is a conservative figure,'' the Hongkong AIDS Foundation Chief Executive Mr Frederick Tong Kin-sang said. With Hongkong widely accepted as a city where transient sex is so deeply entrenched in society that it is an integral part of most visiting businessmen's ''entertainment'', women in marriages or long-term relationships must be regarded as being at risk from AIDS. To help address this problem, the foundation and the Hongkong Association of Business and Professional Women (HKABPW) have organised a seminar on March 20 at the Furama Kempinski Hotel where they hope to launch a campaign to educate women about safe sex and other social and cultural issues which develop in a society where AIDS has become a prevalent health problem. Health and Welfare Secretary Elizabeth Wong will deliver the keynote address at the conference, which will also include lectures on the medical and social aspects of AIDS and a series of workshops on AIDS in the workplace, in families and relationships and in the commercial sex environment. Similar sessions will also discuss the availability of welfare and voluntary support services for AIDS victims and recommendations for improved health and counselling facilities. HKABPW spokeswoman Ms Jane Ritchie Rice, one of the organisers of the seminar, said its primary goal was to educate women about the incidence of AIDS and to inform them about the importance of safe sexual practices. ''Education is the answer for women. We inform them of the facts about AIDS and show them how they can introduce the subject of safe sex to their partners,'' she said. In Hongkong and many other Asian cities, this process of communication is fraught with emotional, psychological and cultural traps. Unlike Western societies, sex with a person outside a couple's normal long-term relationship is not considered taboo behaviour. Whereas a married man might be ostracised from his normal social circle in Western society if it was known he was regularly unfaithful to his wife or permanent partner, in Asia that is not so. Many males are publicly flattered if it is known they are sex tourists and they see no need to protect their families from their habits, if they are found out. Counsellors also believe that the lifestyle of the average upscale businessman who lives in, or travels in the region, can contribute to the high incidence of AIDS among the married population. Ironically, it can be this lifestyle which can entrap a female whose partner has clandestine high-risk sexual encounters. At a recent conference on AIDS, several speakers agreed with the local view, that many of these women are economically dependent on men who have multiple sexual contacts. ''Reform of laws governing property distribution and divorce may be much more important in helping to prevent HIV than increasing the distribution of brochures or condoms,'' the director of the International AIDS Centre at Boston's Harvard University, Mr Jonathan Mann, said at the conference. Locally, such dependency takes a different form to a woman who lives in tribal Africa, but the results are similar. ''If a woman lives with a man who goes once a month to Bangkok for business, it is possible that he might go to a prostitute. He also may not. But if his wife suspects that is so how does she broach the subject of safe sex?'' Ms Rice said. ''If she brings the matter up, that she would like to use a condom during sex, usually the partner will become indignant even if he does have sex with partners outside his primary relationship. For the woman, it is a very difficult situation because once she suggests safe sex, an element of distrust enters into the relationship.'' Frederick Tong said that he hopes the English-language seminar, which will be repeated in Cantonese later this year, will help break down inhibitions about discussing AIDS and its risk, with their families and spouses. ''People are afraid to discuss the disease, particularly if they have been diagnosed as AIDS positive. In Hongkong there is still a very low level of awareness about this.'' The seminar organisers expect they too will benefit from the comments and questions the audience will offer about AIDS. ''We want to learn from them,'' Frederick Tong said. ''If we hear what their problems are, we can work out the educational programmes that address those issues. We want to see how we can reach larger audiences,'' he said. ''What we do know is that in Hongkong, we must approach any discussions about AIDS gently. You don't go up to a person here and begin a direct discussion about the rising incidence of the disease and then talk about condoms. But we do hope as a first step, that women will be less inhibited about talking with their partners about subjects like AIDS after this seminar,'' Ms Rice said. Women and AIDS Seminar, Jade Ballroom 3/F, Furama Kempinski Hotel, March 20. $300 including lunch and coffee breaks; $175 including coffee breaks. Enquiries and bookings: HKABPW Danielle Adams, 721-4281 (tel) or Hongkong AIDS Foundation Mike Sinclair, 560-8528 (tel).