HIV AIDS Treatment - Once Not Accessible, Now Free

By Gulnar Salimova

The Health Ministry of Georgia says 5,331 people are living with AIDS. According to the officials, many more people are infected, but are unaware.

In the first 11 months of this year, 636 new cases of AIDS were recorded in Georgia. In 2014, 564 people were diagnosed with the illness, according to the Health Ministry.

The United Nations says the number of people living with AIDS has doubled since 2010 and reached nearly 16 million.

HIV is a virus that infects a person and AIDS is the disease that later develops. AIDS is transmitted primarily via unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids, such as saliva and tears, do not transmit the disease.

There are many programs which give financial support to infected people. One of them is Global Fund (GF) to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international financing organization that aims to "attract and disburse additional resources to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria."

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria invests nearly $US4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in more than 140 countries.

Since 2003 the GF has disbursed $US94.9 million to Georgia for fighting AIDS, TB and malaria. About 61 percent of those funds have been used for HIV programs.

As Georgia’s economy is growing, the Global Fund is planning in 2016 to begin limiting assistance pledged to Georgia, as well as to many other countries of the region. So it is critically important that government allocations are considerably increased to sustain and expand current prevention, treatment and care programs.

According to Nikoloz Chkhartishvili, the manager of the AIDS treatment program, the GF support program probably will last until 2018: “The government wants to take over all these financial issues," he said. "This year for the first time the government paid for the medicines HIV infected people take when they get first treatment. This financial support was about $US1 million. We can see that year-by-year the government support increases.”

According to Nino Badridze, head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Infectious Diseases, AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Center, GF buys necessary medicines and gives it to the government. Then her center gives it to patients. “Our regional offices give us a list every month of the infected people, and we send the drugs to our regional offices. Besides Tbilisi, there are offices in Batumi, Kutaisi, Sukhumi and other regions. When the patients have only their last 2-3 pills, they inform us and we send the treatments for the next month,” Badridze said.

Giorgi V., 28, got the HIV virus about one year ago. He says it is not too difficult to cope with this disease.

“In the 1990s, it was very difficult to get treatments and live with this problem. But today there is no such problem," he said. "Besides the government support, we get the support from HIV/AIDS Patients Support Foundation. They really help people with treatments and with psychological support as well. Twenty years ago in Georgia, because of economic and other problems, people were buying medicine and it was very expensive, but now we can get it for free.”

He says he is tested three times a year so doctors can monitor his health.

“When I found out about my HIV status, I began to get so-called anti-retroviral therapy, beginning January 22, 2015," he said. "Every day at midnight I take an Efavirenz pill and a Tenofovir pill.” (Truvada is another name for these drugs).

Giorgi says that according to his doctor’s advice, he can take the two different pills together, or he can take one at midnight and the other one in the morning.

According to the HIV/AIDS Patients Support Foundation, the price of the medicine is approximately $US800 a year per person.

There are cases when infected people do not want to get treatment. According to Amelia Yanushevskaya, it happens when people think that they will die and all these medicines will not help, so they give up: “In these cases, we help them to believe in themselves and understand that to getting HIV is not the end of life. They can continue to live as before. Our organization gives them psychological support,” Yanushevskaya says.

Baridze said that sometimes it happens because of the laziness of patients. “Regularly we take some tests to check the patient’s health," she said. "If he/she did not take any medicines, we can find out that easily. But fortunately, it very seldom happens.”

Why are the statistics increasing every year?

“It is increasing, but not so fast,” says the director of HIV/AIDS Patients Support Foundation Izoleta Bodokia. She says there is always an unofficial percent of HIV-positive people, and when they find out about their disease, they are included in official statistics Bodokia also mentioned that these numbers can increase because of tourists in Georgia.

“Actually, most of the time we find out not about new cases, but reveal old cases. For example, mostly it happens that a person for several years has no idea that he/she has the virus,” Baridze said.