February 14, 2013
The country of Georgia is struggling with high rates of hepatitis C. The official statistics show that 200,000 of its people are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which translates to 6.7 percent of the population compared to 2.5 percent of individuals in the United States and less than 1 percent in northwestern Europe. Only approximately one in 10 Georgians with HCV infection receives treatment because of the high cost of treatment. Patients are offered one of the two antiviral drugs, interferon and ribavirin. The four-week treatment course with either drug costs US $6,000, a large amount of money in a country where the average monthly wage is 700 laris (US $415). A full examination costs almost twice that amount at 1.6000 laris (approximately US $966).
David Sergeenko, Georgia's health minister, acknowledged that there is no money in the state healthcare budget to cover the costs of treatment for that many people. He said that approximately 20 percent of the 200,000 individuals with HCV infection need antiviral treatment, which would cost the health department 800 million laris. Also, 1,000 people need liver transplants, which have to be done abroad at a cost of 300,000 to 500,000 euros each. However, even if the country spent its entire 650 million laris healthcare budget on treating HCV infection, it still would not meet its need.
Some doctors believe that the statistics of 200,000 HCV cases is incorrect as it is based on data from 2004, and that the number of cases is even higher. Georgia receives some help from international donors, but they only fund treatment for HIV patients who are coinfected with HCV.