Thousands of Georgians have been cured of hepatitis C as a result of a giant experiment, in which the ex-Soviet nation tests the effectiveness of an aggressive public-health strategy.

In the unprecedented project, all Georgians suffering from hepatitis C – an estimated 130,000 individuals – are being treated with expensive American medications free of charge. The program has entered its third year this May, and by 2020, Georgia hopes to be the first country in the world virtually free of the infectious liver disease.

The project is being undertaken by the US Centers for Disease Controls, the Georgian Ministry of Health and Gilead Sciences Inc., the American pharmaceuticals giant that developed the medications. Starting in 2015, Gilead’s medication, dubbed Sovaldi, was administered to 5,800 Georgian hepatitis patients with severe complications like advanced liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. The following year, a newer drug developed by Gilead, called Harvoni, was given to anyone with an active infection.

Georgia was chosen as a proving ground due to its manageable population size and its high prevalence of hepatitis C. Georgia has the third highest rate of infection in the world after Egypt and Mongolia. Surveys from the early 2000s estimated that 6.7 percent (almost 200,000 people) of Georgia’s total population was infected with hepatitis C.

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