The Republic of Georgia's public health services are struggling against a hepatitis C epidemic.
Official statistics place the number of those infected with the illness at 200,000, which is approximately 6.7 percent of Georgia's population. In the United States, approximately 2.5 percent of the population has hepatitis C. In Europe rates are closer to one percent.
Only one in 10 Georgians receive treatment because of high costs. Patients who do receive treatment are generally offered one of two antivirals - interferon or ribavirin. In a country where wages are, on average, $415 per month, a four-week treatment course with either drug costs approximately $6,000. A full examination can cost approximately $966.
Georgian Health Minister David Sergeenko acknowledged that the state does not have enough money to cover treatment costs for such a large portion of the population. He said estimates are that 1,000 people need liver transplants, which would have to be done abroad at an extremely high cost. Sergeenko said that even if the country spent its entire healthcare budget on treating HCV infection it would still not meet its basic needs.
Some Georgian doctors said that the current statistics are most likely low because they are based on data from 2004. They said that the true number is actually much higher. Georgia receives some international aid for HCV healthcare, but it usually applies only to patients with HIV coinfection.