Davit, a beneficiary of Imedi harm reduction site (HRS) is walking in the streets of Batumi, Georgia on 15 July 2019. © FIND / John Rae
Davit, a beneficiary of Imedi harm reduction site (HRS) is walking in the streets of Batumi, Georgia on 15 July 2019. © FIND / John Rae

Davit's close-to-home hepatitis C diagnosis

Davit* lives in the coastal city of Batumi, Georgia, with his wife and daughter. He is one of almost 20,000 people who was screened for hepatitis C virus (HCV) as part of our HEAD-Start project.

In Georgia, FIND partners with the Georgian Harm Reduction Network (GHRN), an organization strengthening policies, programmes, services and actions that aim to reduce harm to individuals, communities, and society related to drugs, including HIV infection. The HEAD-Start project in this country has decentralized HCV testing by providing access to confirmatory testing for the virus at harm reduction sites (HRS) – dedicated centres to reduce the health impact and social harm associated with substance use.

Davit would frequent the Imedi HRS to collect syringes, and it was during one of his visits there that he was screened for HCV. When he screened positive, Davit found that to get a confirmatory test (to be sure he really needed treatment), he would have to travel a great distance and pay money from his own pocket that he could not afford. However, Imedi HRS is one of the facilities in which HEAD-Start has been implemented, and HCV confirmatory testing was brought into the HRS as part of the project. Davit was able to get the confirmatory test that confirmed his HCV diagnosis in 2019, and he started treatment in November of the same year. His diagnosis was provided free of charge under the HEAD-Start project, and his treatment costs were covered by the government of Georgia. After 12 weeks of treatment, he was cured of HCV.

With a population of 3.7 million, there are estimated to be 50,000 people who inject drugs in Georgia, according to a 2015 census. With drug use criminalized in Georgia, it’s challenging for these people to access life-saving care. Moreover, Davit’s previous bad experiences with medical personnel made him resist hospital care.

FIND is working on decentralizing HCV services to HRS across Georgia to overcome barriers to diagnosis and reach people who are at high risk of contracting the infection, but reluctant to visit mainstream medical facilities.

This work is carried out in collaboration with the Georgian Ministry of Health, which has since spearheaded the movement to incorporate decentralization of HCV services and testing platforms across the nation’s healthcare system.

HEAD-Start is a project funded by Unitaid.

*Name has been changed.