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URGENT: Putin pledges $100mln-plus to fight HIV/AIDS

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MOSCOW, September 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the government would allocate up to 30 times more funds next year to fight HIV and AIDS.

During a phone-in, question-and-answer session, Putin said that more than $105 million will be spent next year, compared with the "130 million rubles [$4.55 million] allocated so far this year.

"That's practically nothing for Russia on the scale of things. Next year, funding will be increased 20- to 30-fold. Up to 3 billion rubles [$105.08 million] will be appropriated for the purpose, keeping in mind that all those in need of medications, however expensive, should have them."

Putin said the spread of AIDS in Russia could not be classified as an epidemic.

"Recent surveys and statistical data confirm that the problem is very acute indeed, yet its character is not that of an epidemic," he said.

A growing number of Western experts, however, have put the number of HIV and AIDS cases in the country much higher than officially registered.

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