In 2009 the Ministry of Labour, Health, and Social Affairs of Georgia and the National Center for Disease Control requested the assistance of the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Foundation in establishing a hepatitis B catch-up vaccination program for at-risk healthcare workers, medical students, and adolescents.The resulting program built on the efforts supported by the Foundation to prevent the transmission of hepatitis B from carrier mothers to their newborns, performed during 2006 – 2012, in which all pregnant women in Georgia were screened for hepatitis B carriage.
Epidemiologic data emerging from the screening program have unmasked an unexpectedly high burden of hepatitis B among women of childbearing age, indicative of intermediate endemicity as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). In areas of intermediate endemicity the lifetime risk of HBV infection is 20-60%, and infections occur in all age groups. It is this compelling statistic that induced the Georgian government to request the assistance of the RVF to begin a hepatitis B catch-up vaccination program to protect segments of society that are at high risk of infection. Hepatitis B is the most common infectious cause of severe liver disease. It can lead to live failure, cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is entirely preventable through vaccination.
The program was kicked off by seminars for chief medical doctors and key opinion leaders in vaccinology, followed by training sessions for medical workers, who in turn educated parents of adolescents about the importance of vaccination against hepatitis B. All vaccinations were administered on a voluntary basis. Over 13,000 health care workers have been screened for hepatitis B and 7,000 have been vaccinated against hepatitis B. Additionally, over 2,300 medical students, and 7,000 adolescents have been vaccinated.
As with all RVF-supported programs, this program was implemented entirely through the existing public health infrastructure by local health care workers, so that from the very start the Ministry of Health and local healthcare workers had full ownership of the program. The MOH fully sustained the program beginning in 2013.