As soon as the Republic of Georgia’s National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) sounded an alarm about a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s government set its pandemic response into motion. It was early January 2020, and there was still no hard evidence that the infection had spread across borders, but the country’s health leaders were wary. As outbreaks of the virus, identified as COVID-19, began to appear in other countries, the government quickly created a multisectoral coordination council chaired by the prime minister and then adopted a number of emergency response measures. Working with a network of local public health centers, the NCDC launched a communications blitz, with scientists and physicians at the forefront. The public health campaign encouraged compliance with stringent—and unpopular—lockdown measures. Through the first half of 2020, the weekly number of new cases remained low, even as infections surged in many high-income industrial countries. But it was too early for a victory lap. Pressure grew to open up resort centers during July and August in an economy heavily dependent on tourism. During September, October, and November the number of new cases per day climbed sharply, driven mainly by expansion of the outbreak in Adjara, a vacation destination. Compared to most European countries, the incidence of disease remained low, however, and the number of new infections later plummeted, approaching initial levels by March 2021. This case study highlights how a small, middle-income country with a privatized and decentralized health-care system initially succeeded in its pandemic response, struggled with sharp reversals, and then brought the infection rate close to earlier levels prior to vaccine distribution.
Tyler McBrien drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with Nona Tsotseria, MD, PhD, in January and February 2021. Case published June 2021. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.