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A top Russian health official criticized the government on Saturday for not taking measures to prevent a rapid rise in the number of new HIV cases in this vast country, Interfax news agency reported.

It quoted Gennady Onishenko, a senior public health official, as saying cases of HIV more than trebled in 1999 from 1998. He said 14,980 new cases of HIV, the human immunodeficiency illness that causes AIDS, were recorded last year out of a population of about 147 million.

In a report, Onishenko said the main reason for the surge in HIV was the government's lack of activity in fighting drug abuse and prostitution -- two of the main causes of the spread of the illness.

The report showed that 75 percent of infected people between the ages of 15 and 29 were drug addicts who used needles.

Onishenko also expressed concern over the spread of infection in hospitals where the illness is passed on through blood transfusions and said certain centers should take more thorough measures in checking donors' blood.

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