On January 3, 2017, Federal district court Judge Robert Mariani granted political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s request for a preliminary injunction, forcing the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide him with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs capable of curing his chronic hepatitis C infection. Litigation continues on damages claims against the Department of Corrections for allowing Abu-Jamal’s health to decline into a diabetic shock, and for allowing his hepatitis C infection to go untreated for so long that damage to his liver progressed to cirrhosis.
The case started when Abu-Jamal was rushed to the hospital on March 30, 2015, after losing consciousness and going into diabetic shock. Although prison medical staff were aware that Abu-Jamal had a dangerously high blood glucose level of 419 on March 6, they failed to treat, monitor, or even inform Abu-Jamal of his condition. Glucose levels like those that Abu-Jamal had can result in diabetic shock, diabetic coma, and death.
Abu-Jamal’s diabetic shock came in the midst of an escalating year-long health crisis that began with a rash in August 2014. The skin condition grew in intensity over the course of the next several months, eventually covering most of his body with a painful, severe rash that is resistant to conventional treatments. The skin condition is abnormal in its duration and intensity, and has led to lesions, open wounds, and swelling.
On August 3, 2015, an amended complaint in Abu-Jamal v. Kerestes was filed seeking injunctive relief for prison medical staff’s failure to treat Abu-Jamal’s active hepatitis C. Recent blood tests provided at the insistence of Abu-Jamal, his lawyers, and consulting doctors confirmed that Abu-Jamal has active hepatitis C, which is likely the underlying cause of his health crisis. Despite the undeniable medical evidence that he is in need of treatment for his hepatitis C, prison medical staff are refusing to provide any.
Advances in hepatitis C treatment in recent years have revolutionized the way the disease is treated, with new direct-acting anti-viral medications that have had over 95% success rates in curing the illness in clinical trials. The medications, however, are extraordinarily expensive in the United States due to monopoly pricing practices by the pharmaceutical companies that have patented them.
On March 11, 2016 attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal filed their post-hearing brief in support of Abu-Jamal’s motion for a preliminary injunction ordering the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to provide him with treatment for his hepatitis C. The 30-page brief summarized the extensive factual record from a 3-day evidentiary hearing held at the end of December 2015.
During the December hearing it was shown that Abu-Jamal has a chronic hepatitis C infection that is progressively attacking his liver, causing scarring, a severe, itchy, painful skin rash that has lasted more than 18 months, and anemia of chronic disease. Abu-Jamal also experienced a nearly fatal attack of diabetes in March 2015 that was likely related to his hepatitis C.
There were surprises at the hearing as well. The head of the DOC’s clinical services, Dr. Paul Noel, revealed that tests conducted by the DOC show that there is a 63% chance that Abu-Jamal has cirrhosis, which means that the disease has progressed to the point that it is causing irreversible and worsening inflammation and scarring throughout his liver. Despite the extraordinary danger posed by Abu-Jamal’s condition, Noel testified under oath that the DOC will not provide treatment unless a patient has advanced cirrhosis and the presence of esophageal varices, which means that the patient is at risk of bleeding to death.
As argued in Abu-Jamal’s brief: “It is shocking to the conscience that the DOC thinks it is acceptable to withhold medical care until one’s liver has suffered irreversible damage accompanied by such severe damage to the blood vessels that the patient is literally at risk of bleeding to death. No matter whether such “active surveillance” is called treatment or not, it is a gross departure from medical ethics and constitutional requirements.”
Dr. Noel also revealed on cross examination that DOC counsel had submitted a falsified document in his name in September in 2015 that contained inaccurate and misleading medical information that was then used as the basis for DOC’s argument against plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is represented by Bret Grote of the Abolitioist Law Center and Robert Boyle.