Three Israeli hospitals joined forces this week in an effort to teach doctors from eastern and southern Africa how to deal with the AIDS virus that is ravaging the continent.

The hospitals involved are Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem and Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

The project, called the Israeli Consortium on AIDS Medicine in Africa, has trained 105 physicians from Ethiopia over the past five years. But this week, it entered a new phase, expanding to six other countries.

Altogether, 10 doctors from other African countries arrived in Israel this week for continuing professional training, from Botswana - whose AIDS problem is the worst in the world - Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

"In light of the terrible AIDS problem in Africa, we are augmenting our cooperation," said Prof. Shlomo Maayan, who initiated the project and heads the AIDS center at Hadassah Hospital's Ein Karem branch. "The project also now involves increased cooperation among Israeli universities that are working with the three hospitals and six East African universities."

He added that the effort has been assisted by the American Jewish Committee's Project Interchange and is being funded by a U.S. government program, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

According to Dr. Peter Mugyenyi of Uganda, who heads the Ugandan AIDS center and is currently in Israel under the auspices of the Israeli Consortium on AIDS, for every two patients who begin AIDS treatment in Africa, another five are infected. He said treatment is not reaching all of those who need it, and international assistance is necessary.

Israeli physicians also benefit from the experience they gain through the project, Mugyenyi added.

Altogether, there are more than 6.7 million AIDS patients in Africa.