Greece will issue free condoms and syringes to heroin dependent users to halt an alarming rise in new HIV cases, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

"There is an imperative need for immediate action to limit the spread of infection," deputy health minister Michalis Timosidis said in a parliamentary document.

The state organisation against drugs (Okana) and volunteer groups will distribute 30,000 condoms and 10,000 syringes as part of the initiative to be initially launched in Athens.

Greece's top health watchdog in November warned that new HIV-positive cases had increased by 52.7 percent from 2010, a rise blamed on prostitution -- which increasingly draws on undocumented migrants -- and intravenous drug use.

The centre for disease control and prevention (Keelpno) said over 800 new cases had been recorded until October 2011, over a third among homosexual men.

Among heroin users, the increase was 1,250 percent in a year, Keelpno said.

Greece has been forced to make sweeping cuts to social spending in the past two years under a drastic economic overhaul to eliminate state deficits in return for EU-IMF loans.

The budget cuts have been accompanied by staff dismissals and hospital mergers which doctors warn will diminish the effectiveness of Greece's health system.

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