Institute for War & Peace Reporting (02.14.2014)
The Institute for War & Peace Reporting released information about a new program Georgia implemented to provide low-cost hepatitis C medicines for 10,000 of the nation’s citizens and free treatment for prison inmates. “Official statistics” from 2004 estimated that 6–7 percent of Georgia’s population (approximately 200,000 people) had hepatitis C, and only 20,000 (lower than 10 percent of the affected population) had received treatment. In comparison, hepatitis prevalence was 2.5 percent in the United States and lower than 1 percent in northwest Europe.
Deputy Prisons Minister Archil Talakvadze stated that only 300–400 patients currently were receiving hepatitis C treatment, at their own cost. Georgia’s prisons ministry estimated hepatitis C prevalence was three times higher among prisoners than the general population, and attributed 18 percent of prisoners’ deaths to hepatitis C. The program would screen 12,000 prisoners and treat the 500 most serious cases this year, adding another 500 patients in 2015. The program reserved treatment for prisoners serving more than 18 months.
The average monthly wage in Georgia was $400, and health insurance companies did not cover hepatitis C treatment. Approximately 17 percent of Georgia’s population was unemployed. Out-of-pocket cost for two hepatitis C drugs, ribavirin and pegylated interferon, was $6,000 for 24 weeks of treatment. Some people needed 48 weeks of treatment. The addition of a third drug, boceprevir, increased the treatment success rate, but added $28,000 to treatment costs. The program became viable when the Georgian government brokered the purchase of drugs at 60 percent below the normal cost.
The government began registering members of the public so it could select people to receive the reduced-cost medications. Applicants submitted diagnosis, previous test results, and recommended course of treatment to a commission that would rule on discounts. Approximately 200 people already have submitted documents.