A promising Hep C program seems to be working — and it could be a model for other countries

Close to 8% of the Georgian population is living with hepatitis C, an infection that can lead to serious liver problems, including cancer.

Georgia, a country nestled against the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia with a population of 3.7 million, has since taken on a public health effort to help reduce its prevalence of hepatitis C (HCV for short) by 90% by 2020.

To make it happen, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is working with Georgia’s government and Gilead Sciences, a company that makes hepatitis C treatment, to get its pills to the right people.

As part of the program, Gilead supplied Harvoni, a hepatitis C cure, to Georgia for free (in the US, a course of treatment could cost as much as $1,100 a pill). Harvoni, which contains ledipasvir and sofosbuvir, was originally approved in 2014, shortly after sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) on its own was approved in December 2013.

The program started in April 2015. Since then, according to a CDC report released Friday, close to 8,500 people (of approximately 285,000 Georgians with hepatitis C) have been treated, with thousands more waiting to start treatment. The treatment course typically takes about 12 weeks. In total, roughly 27,000 people have been enrolled and are awaiting treatment.

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According to Clifford Samuel, a senior vice president at Gilead Sciences, the program got its start after Georgia’s government approached the company. Georgia has the third highest prevalence of hepatitis C in the world, after Mongolia and Egypt, a country where Gilead supplies the medication at a discount and allows generic companies to produce the medicine as well. Nearly 9 million people in Egypt have hepatitis C. As of the second quarter of 2016, 150,000 people in Egypt have been treated with Sovaldi, according to Gilead.

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