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Georgian Anti-Hep C Project an Overwhelming Success

Large-scale elimination of virus is the result of pilot program launched by U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturer, which offered free treatment to hepatitis patients.

Georgia has been successful in almost completely curing hepatitis C, two years after the start of a pilot project bringing together the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls, the Georgian Ministry of Health, and Gilead Sciences Inc., an American pharmaceutical firm that developed medications for the viral disease, EurasiaNet.org writes.

The program involved two types of medications: Sovaldi, for hepatitis patients who had severe complications of the disease, like advanced liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, and Havroni, for people with an active Hepatitis C infection.

“The success rate was 80 percent in patients with severe liver damage, and 97 percent for those with a less-advanced stage of the disease,” according to Maia Butsashvili, an infectious disease specialist at Neolab, a clinic participating in the program, cited by EurasiaNet.org.

While the treatment has a prohibitive price – with $1,000 for a single Sovaldi pill and a 12-week Havroni protocol costing about $84,000 – the Georgian patients benefitted for free, after the pharmaceutical company decided to use the country as a testing ground, due to its manageable population of around 3.7 million people, and its viral screening systems.

“It is a nice country for us to evaluate. We will take the Georgia data to other countries around the world to really make the case that investment can fundamentally change the disease over time,” Gregg Alton Gilead’s executive vice president, corporate and medical affairs, told Reuters. 

The treatment’s success rates extended to the Caucasus country’s prisons. Ninety percent of Georgian inmates who took the treatment became virus-free, Agenda.ge reported in 2015. The results are particularly significant given that, until 2013, hepatitis C had been the leading cause of death in Georgian prisons.

  • Hepatitis C can cause liver damage and is usually transmitted through the blood of an infected person, although it can spread through other bodily fluids.
  • According to a 2002 survey, cited by Georgia Today, the highest rates of hepatitis C infection at the time in Tbilisi were among prison inmates (50 percent), intravenous drug users (50 to 70 percent), and HIV positive people (47 percent).
  • Surveys from that decade showed that Georgia had the third highest hepatitis C infection rate in the world, after Egypt and Mongolia, with around 7 percent of the population infected with the virus. The worldwide prevalence of the virus ranges from 0.5 percent to 1 percent, according to the World Health Organization, and is higher in the eastern Mediterranean and European regions covered by the WHO, where it affects more than 2 percent of the population.
  • Georgia’s first hepatitis C Management Centre opened in Tbilisi last summer, according to Agenda.ge. A second, significantly larger center opened this March in Zugdidi, near the breakaway Abkhazia region, a location that was chosen due to the high incidence of the virus in the region, the authorities said.
  • A few years ago, parents of more than 30 children in Kazakhstan had claimed that their children contracted hepatitis C from a hospital in Astana, where all of them received blood transfusions while being treated for leukemia.
  • Georgia hopes to be the first hepatitis-free country in the world by 2020, according to EurasiaNet.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu