Georgia Recognized for Success Combating Hepatitis C

The Georgian Ministry of Health was recognized on Friday, April 12, at a ceremony in Vienna, Austria, for its successes in combating Hepatitis C in the country. David Sergeenko, the Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, received the award on behalf of the ministry. The award, recognizing Georgia as an “Exemplary Country,” was presented by the European Association for the Study of the Liver and the International Liver Foundation in Austria at the 2019 International Liver Conference.

Sergeenko presented to the assembled audience, hundreds of scientists and medical professionals from around the world, Georgia’s efforts to fight Hepatitis C and highlighted the importance of making diagnostic and treatment services easily accessible nationwide in lowering the instance of the disease.

Accepting the award from Chairman of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, Massimo Colombo, Sergeenko said, “It is a great honor for us to be given the status as the world’s first ‘Exemplary Country.’ The Hepatitis C elimination program in Georgia represents the best example of cooperation between the private and public sector, the US Center for Disease Control and the Gilead [Sciences] Company. In addition to the fact that this program has had a positive impact on national public health, Georgia has also become a role model around the globe, and many countries will benefit from the experiences we have had since 2015.”

During the International Liver Conference, the Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the International Liver Foundation.

In Georgia, the Hepatitis C cure rate is more than 98%. The Ministry of Health reports that each month, approximately 1,000 new patients enroll in the ‘Georgia Without Hepatitis C’ initiative, which was launched in April 2015 in partnership with American biotechnology company Gilead. The project aims to reduce and prevent the spread of Hepatitis C in the country. Through the program, treatment is free of charge for all citizens of Georgia.

Research conducted at the start of the program, in 2015, showed that 8% of the Georgian population was infected with Hepatitis C.

The Ministry of Health’s anti-Hepatitis C campaign has three primary targets:

1) 90% of adults should undergo screening: a simple blood test

2) Of those who underwent screening and need treatment, at least 90% should be involved in the program

3) From the 90% involved in treatment, at least 95% should be cured

Since the launch of the program, more than 2 million Hepatitis C screenings have been conducted.

In a speech at the regional consultation meeting ‘Achievements Towards the Elimination of Hepatitis C’ in February, Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze noted that “tens of thousands of our citizens formerly infected with Hepatitis C have been fully cured with government support,” and explained how, not long ago, a diagnosis of Hepatitis C meant a condition to live with, since treatment was out of the financial reach of most Georgians. “We have had tremendous success. The negative test indicator is 98% on average. We will not spare time and efforts in the future for the ultimate eradication of the disease. I am confident that Georgia will become one of the first countries to fully combat Hepatitis C,” affirmed Bakhtadze.

The full course of treatment costs roughly $80,000 - $90,000 per patient.

In July 2018, Akaki Zoidze, Chairman of the Healthcare Committee of the Parliament, warned Georgians that after 2020, Hepatitis C treatment will no longer be free. He called on citizens who know or suspect that they have the disease to apply for treatment now, while the program is free. “At least 25,000 people know they have Hepatitis C and are not treating it. We should do our best to encourage these people to undergo treatment because in doing so, we will save 25,000 lives,” said Zoidze.

By Samantha Guthrie

Image source: Ministry of Health

18 April 2019 16:56