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On air on GDS TV, the Chairman of the Healthcare and Social Issues Committee of the Parliament of Georgia, Dimitri Khundadze, stated that an unprecedented programme to fight hepatitis C is being implemented in Georgia.

FactCheck

took interest in the programme for the elimination of hepatitis C and verified the accuracy of Mr Khundadze’s statement.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Georgia is a country where hepatitis C is quite widespread. In April 2015, the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia started implementing a programme for the elimination of hepatitis C. The aims of the programme included disease spread prevention and decreasing the hepatitis C death toll. Georgia is implementing the programme in partnership with the World Health Organization and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States of America with the support of an American pharmaceutical company, Gilead.

A complete eradication of hepatitis C in Georgia would be an unprecedented achievement in the field of healthcare all around the world.

According to the information of the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, the Government of Georgia managed to persuade its international partners to make Georgia a test-country for the elimination of hepatitis C. Georgia was selected based upon the following criteria: a large number of those infected by the disease, an appropriate medical infrastructure and a relatively small country area.

In one of his interviews,

the Vice President of Gilead, Gregg Alton, pointed out: "Georgia, with its population of five million and its small area, is ideal for conducting a scientific test using virus screening. The results received in Georgia will be used all around the world. This will be an example that investment in this field can bring about fundamental changes."

The programme for the elimination of hepatitis C includes free screening (any citizen of Georgia can use this service to determine if they are affected) and free treatment of the disease using cutting-edge, expensive medications such as Sofosbuvir/Harvon, Pegylated Interferon and Ribavirin. The medical tests necessary for registration in the programme are co-funded by the state by 30% with this amount increasing to 70% for socially vulnerable people.

Any citizen of Georgia with hepatitis C can take part in the treatment programme. Various medical facilities in Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Gori and Rustavi are treating patients as a part of the programme.

Sofosbuvir, one of the medications necessary for the treatment of hepatitis C, was given to Georgia free-of-charge by Gilead at the first stage of the treatment programme. As of 2016, in the second stage of the programme, Gilead is supplying Georgia with another medication – Harvon. This is a combination of two types of medications – Sofosbuvir and an antivirus medication, Ledipasvir, which is even more effective as a treatment. Unlike Sofosbuvir, additional medications are rarely necessary when using Harvon. According to the information of the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, Gilead supplied Georgia with EUR 400 million worth of Sofosbuvir in 2015 and EUR 136 million worth of Sofosbuvir and GEL 139,328,000 worth of Harvon in 2016. Additional medications will be supplied by the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia with a total of GEL 22 million allocated for the treatment of hepatitis C in the 2016 state budget. The Ministry also indicated that the hepatitis C programme will continue for as long as it takes to completely eradicate the disease countrywide. Gilead will supply Georgia with medications over this period free-of-charge.

According to the information of the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia, about 7,000 patients have been receiving treatment since the beginning of the programme. Over 3,000 people have already finalised their treatment whilst 90% of them have completely recovered from the disease. The number of patient beneficiaries will increase significantly from 2016. A total of 20,000 people are planned to be treated in 2016. The first stage of the programme targets those individuals with a severe case of hepatitis C.

Of necessary note is that appropriate sterilisation standards in medical facilities, dentist offices and beauty and tattoo salons must be maintained as these particular locations are high-risk sites for the disease to spread. These facilities in particular are checked and monitored in terms of the hepatitis C programme.

Conclusion

The implementation of the programme for the elimination of hepatitis C started in 2015 and included free screening and free treatment using expensive, cutting-edge medications. An American pharmaceutical company, Gilead, is supplying Georgia with medications for the treatment of hepatitis C free-of-charge. The Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia is responsible for the purchase of additional medications.

The first stage of the programme for the elimination of hepatitis C has already been finished. Over 3,000 people have already finalised their treatment with 90% of them having completely recovered. A much larger number of patients will be involved in the second stage of the programme. Patients will be selected based upon the severity of their condition.

If hepatitis C is completely eliminated in Georgia, it will become the very first country in the world to have achieved such a result and represent an achievement unprecedented in the field of global healthcare.

FactCheck concludes that Dimitri Khundadze’s statement is TRUE.

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