PRESS ADVISORYMarch 4, 2016
CONTACT: Pam Africa – 267-760-7344; Joe Piette – 610-931-2615
A year after renowned political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal nearly died from acute diabetes, one of several complications from what eventually was diagnosed as hepatitis C, his supporters are raising the alarm once again that his life is in danger.
They are demanding that state officials resume blood tests for glucose; that a dermatologist from outside the prison system be allowed to examine and treat him; that he be administered one of the new one-pill-a-day treatments that cure approximately 90-95% of hepatitis C patients over 4 to 12 weeks; and that the thousands of other men and women prisoners with HCV also be treated.
His brother, Keith Cook; his medical advisor, Dr. Joseph Harris; attorneys Rachel Wolkenstein and Robert Boyle; Pam Africa, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Dr. Suzanne Ross of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC; and Marc Taylor of Educators for Mumia, who have all visited Abu-Jamal in the last 10 days or so, have expressed concerns about his obvious medical decline.
Wolkenstein reports: “His arms are very, very dark and his skin has the look and feel of a layer of thick leather. Hugging him hello and goodbye, I could feel large hard bumps on his back.
“Mumia said he is hungry all the time. He ate four sandwiches (two of which were given him by another man), had a chocolate milk and orange tea, and a “health bar” during my visit. And he said he could have eaten more. He has gained back a considerable amount of weight and is now, again, significantly overweight. I understand that excessive hunger and thirst are often symptomatic of diabetes. The prison stopped testing Mumia’s glucose levels some time ago.
“Mumia is very ill; he has active hepatitis C. This is a silent killer. The prison medical experts themselves admit that Mumia has stage two cirrhosis of the liver. The secondary symptoms of hep C can ebb and flow, but the damage to his liver and other organs continue. Mumia is literally dying from hep C, now.
“All the official medical organizations now state unequivocally that everyone who has active hep C, except for someone near death from an unrelated disease, should get the treatment with the new anti-viral drugs.”
Taylor writes Mumia is “back to some fairly constant itching. He was itching in my presence. His feet also still looked a bit swollen. And, quite concerning, he reports having to break his sleep in the night because of itching, and having to apply Vaseline. A prison doctor told him it’s just ‘winter dryness’ – but to my mind, and Mumia agreed, winter dryness doesn’t interrupt sleep to this extent. I read all the three days of transcripts from Mumia’s December 2015 hearing, and my sense and fear is that this is a return of a skin condition associated with the hep C condition that afflicts him. Of course, the PA Department of Corrections (DOC) refuses to treat him for hep C, even though the PA DOC’s own infectious disease specialist recommended it.”
Boyle, the lead attorney at the Federal hearings in Scranton, December 18-22, to determine the right of Abu-Jamal and other prisoners to adequate hep C treatment (1), asserts: “Hepatitis C is a progressive and life-threatening disease. At our hearing in December, the medical experts all agreed that so long as there is an active infection, as in the case with Mumia, the inflammation can cause a host of serious complications. For Mumia that has included damage to his liver, anemia, diabetes and a debilitating skin condition. The Pennsylvania DOC knows that Mumia will be cured if he is administered the anti-viral medication and their experts admitted in court that there is no medical reason why he should not be treated. Their refusal to do so is not only a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, it violates codes of basic human rights under international law.”
Pam Africa explained: We are asking people to help us stop the torture of Mumia. With the hep C cure, Mumia lives; without it each day is torture, another day toward death…We have direct actions, including a lawsuit in court to get the cure. We are working with state and city officials on holding hearings about the up-to-10,000 men, women with hep C in prisons and the 46,000 active HCV carriers(including children) in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. There is a week of activities for Mumia in April, including a meeting at the Philly Governor’s office to deliver thousands of petitions(2), and more visibility on the streets and in the classrooms. During Spring Break, come to Philly and help spread the word: Rise Up! Rise Now!”
Governor Wolf and other state officials have a responsibility to make the cure for hepatitis C possible for thousands of Pennsylvanians infected with this virus. There is a cure that is 95% effective, but Gilead Sciences charges up to $94,500 for the 12-week-long treatment with Sovaldi or Harvoni. Thousands are being denied the hep C cure by Medicaid (2), the Veterans Administration, personal medical insurers and the PA Department of Corrections. In 2015, while many people were suffering and dying from cirrhosis or cancer of the liver because they didn’t have the means to pay the steep price for the cure, Gilead made an obscene $17 billion in profits.
Abu-Jamal almost died from hepatitis C complications in March 2015. The DOC spent over $160,000 treating Abu-Jamal’s hep C symptoms but refuses to provide him with the available cure. The cost of the DOC’s refusal to cure the disease when first detected is not only immeasurable in suffering and loss of lives of state prisoners but leads to higher financial expenses as the disease is allowed to develop into cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.
Instead of the DOC’s hep C protocol (3) being a guide for the treatment and eradication of HCV, it is a manual for the denial of care, with a formula that denies even the consideration of treatment until the point of near death. If the unjustifiably high costs of the medicines are influencing the DOC’s decisions on procedures, the state should instead be pressuring the pharmaceutical industry to lower prices, as the state of Massachusetts is doing.(4)
Prisoners with untreated hep C unknowingly bring this deadly disease back to their communities – often to neighborhoods with poor access to quality healthcare. HCV is a greater threat to PA residents than HIV, Ebola or Zika. Countries such as Egypt and India are providing the hep C cure to their patients for a tiny fraction of the cost in this country. Everyone in the US with the hep C virus should get the cure – those in prison, too.
For prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, untreated hepatitis C is a death sentence. The PA DOC’s refusal to fully treat Abu-Jamal and other prisoners is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. In light of the PA DOC’s refusal to provide the cure to HCV, we therefore call on Governor Wolf to release Mumia Abu-Jamal and all other prisoners needlessly suffering from untreated hepatitis C.
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