The Republic of Georgia is making real progress toward ending its hepatitis C virus (HCV) epidemic, largely thanks to widespread harm-reduction programs launched across the country, MD Mag reports.

A recent study published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report rolled out the good news. For the study, researchers analyzed health records to judge the impact of Georgian harm-reduction groups on hepatitis C rates over the past 13 years.

For now, this scenic country on the shores of the Black Sea still has one of the highest rates of HCV in the world. But that is changing dramatically.

Here’s the process that led to positive findings presaging an end to Georgia’s HCV nightmare: Researchers at the country’s National Center for Disease Control and Public Health analyzed records from the Georgia Harm Reduction Network to identify annual HCV testing and diagnosis rates at needle and syringe programs across the country from 2006 through 2018. To broaden the study, researchers also used age group and sex distribution data from 2015 through 2018. 

Overall, researchers found that nearly 5.4% of adults in Georgia were HCV-positive in 2015 and attributed almost 40% of infections to drug use. To help combat this problem, the country launched widespread syringe-exchange programs in 2006, before launching an official hepatitis C elimination program in 2015.

Since then, an average of 21,551 people were tested for hepatitis C antibodies in Georgia between 2015 and 2018—a major increase from the 3,638 tested between 2006 and 2014. The Georgian government also started tracking clinical outcomes for HCV treatment among injection drug users at this time, curing 97.6% of those who were treated for the disease as part of its national elimination program. Right now in Georgia, all patients who test positive for HCV are enrolled in a treatment program and prescribed direct-acting antiviral drugs in accordance with national guidelines. 

As a result, the country is seeing real progress in its treatment and prevention efforts. In their study, investigators found that just 37.1% of the 86,205 people who received hepatitis C tests at a Georgian needle exchange site tested positive for the virus—a major reduction from the 49.6% of patients who tested positive in similar groups between 2006 and 2014.

To read the study abstract, click here.