On #WorldHepDay: Partnership seeks to eradicate hepatitis in Georgia

Viral hepatitis affects more than 400 million people around the world, more than 10 times the number of people affected by HIV. Yet people with this dangerous liver-attacking disease rarely know they have it.

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. Organizers have set out an ambitious goal to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. There are five different hepatitis viruses — hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Each can cause similar symptoms, but they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently.

Experts are watching a first-of-its-kind program in Georgia, where a team of governments, drug companies and ordinary people have been working to eliminate the disease since 2015. (Georgia has one of the highest rates of hepatitis in the world.)

Working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government of Georgia has expanded screening and other prevention efforts from the capital to 17 sites around the country. At the same time, Gilead Sciences, maker of highly effective hepatitis drugs, has offered to provide medicines at no cost to citizens of Georgia.

So far, results are impressive, according to Tengiz Tsertsvadze, the head of Georgia’s Infectious Diseases, Clinical Immunology and AIDS Research Center. Of almost 9,000 people who have entered treatment, “about 83 percent … were cured,” he said.

The World Hepatitis Alliance says strategic efforts like the one in Georgia could save an estimated 7.1 million people in 14 years.

Follow #WorldHepDay and the #NOhep campaign, and find out more about global eradication efforts from the World Health Organization.