Cut-price medication for many patients, and free treatment for the prison population.
Under a nationwide programme which Georgia’s government has launched to tackle hepatitis C, 10,000 people will become eligible for subsidised medicines, and treatment will be free in the prison system, where the disease is common.
Experts say the programme could be a major step towards reducing infection rates. Prisoners with hepatitis C will start receiving free treatment from March.
Official statistics dating from 2004 showed 200,000 people infected with the disease, or between six and seven per cent of the population. Some believe the current total could be higher, close to 300,000. The equivalent rate is 2.5 per cent in the United States, and under one per cent in northwestern Europe. (See Hepatitis Unchecked in Georgia from last year.) Around 20,000 people, under ten per cent of the total number infected, have undergone treatment.
Archil Talakvadze, the deputy prisons minister, told IWPR that “international experts say Georgia will become a global leader in the fight against hepatitis C. The creation of the programme for prisoners, and the provision of lower prices to 10,000 citizens is the biggest boost to making treatment accessible in Georgia’s modern history.
“For comparison, only 300 to 400 patients were receiving treatment every year, and at their own expense.”
Until now, many have been unable to afford the medicines. In a country where the average monthly wage is 700 laris (400 dollars) and 17 per cent of the population is unemployed, many could not even afford to pay for a diagnosis costing 1,600 laris. Health insurance companies refused to pay for treatment even when people had cover.