Gilead Sciences has launched an initiative to provide its hepatitis C (HCV) treatment Sovaldi to patients in the Republic of Georgia free of charge.
The move is part of an effort by Gilead to demonstrate that its products can drastically reduce HCV prevalence, which the company hopes will encourage more widespread use of Sovaldi and its successor, Harvoni.
In its first year, the program will cover treatment for 5,000 patients, with Gilead looking to expand the program to 20,000 patients per year in the future.
HCV in Georgia
Georgia has one of the world's highest rates of HCV, with an estimated prevalence around 7% in its adult population. According to Reuters, Georgia has the third highest prevalence of HCV worldwide, after Egypt and Mongolia, though some sources cite higher rates in Uzbekistan and sub-Saharan Africa.
With a population of nearly 5 million, a 7% HCV prevalence in adults would put the number of people in Georgia with HCV in the hundreds of thousands. However, ascertaining the exact prevalence of HCV is incredibly difficult, due to the vast amount of people infected and its prevalence in low resource areas.
Gregg Alton, head of corporate and medical affairs at Gilead, told Reuters the company chose Georgia for the project because of its high prevalence, existing screening systems and relatively small population. Though Gilead will be providing its products for free in Georgia, Alton said that they are looking to international funding sources for future programs.
According to Democracy & Freedom Watch, a Georgian news site, the agreement for the project was signed on 21 April, with patient registration beginning the following day. While the treatment will be available for free, patients will be responsible for the cost of screening, which is around $212 USD, with the government covering up to 70% of that amount for low-income patients.
Forming an Action Plan
News of the plan first came to light last November, when Georgia's Minister Health Davit Sergeenko met with Gilead in the US to discuss the possibility of a plan to affordably treat HCV using Sovaldi.
According to a press release on Georgia's Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs website, Gilead representatives also visited Georgia to assess the situation in the country. The release also stated that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would assist with the project, though the extent of their involvement remains unclear.
A February press release mentions that the program could potentially be expanded to include Harvoni, which Reuters says is currently undergoing review in the country.
In March, Georgia held a two-day workshop to present its action plan for HCV elimination. The workshop was attended by Minister of Health Sergeenko, Deputy Minister of Health Valeri Kvaratskhelia, Georgia Center for Disease Control head Amiran Gamkrelidze, Francisco Averhoff, associate director for global health at the US CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, as well as representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe.
Reuters, Democracy & Freedom Watch, Ministry of Labor Health and Social Affairs of Georgia