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Federal Judge Orders Pennsylvania to Provide Anti-Viral Hep-C Treatment to Mumia Abu-Jamal

Big win for Hep-C infected inmates


Certainly Judge Mariani made sure any appellate court panel would have solid grounds not to allow for any further delay in treatment starting during what would be a lengthy appeals process. In his order, the judge, referring to the DOC’s current “protocol” for treatment of prisoners with Hep C wrote scathingly:

[T]he effect of the protocol is to delay administration of DAA medications until the inmate faces the imminent prospect of “catastrophic” rupture and bleeding out of the esophageal vessels. Additionally, by denying treatment until inmates have “advanced disease” as marked by esophageal varices, the interim protocol prolongs the suffering of those who have been diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C and allows the progression of the disease to accelerate so that it presents a greater threat of cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and death of the inmate with such disease.

As Grote and his fellow attorney in the case, Robert Boyle, note, “The judge also rejected the DOC’s argument that recent changes to (their treatment) protocol had resolved the constitutional violation, holding that the new protocol “suffers from the same fatal flaw as the interim protocol” because it “refuses, without medical justification, to provide treatment… and also imposes an unreasonable condition—having vast fibrosis or cirrhosis—on treatment.”

As Grote points out, under the DOC’s supposed treatment protocol, only 1% of infected inmates -- fewer than 50 statewide -- have been receiving the anti-viral medication that is considered by the Center for Disease Control to be the appropriate standard of care for active Hepatitis C infections. “It’s really a non-treatment protocol,” he explains, saying that “limiting the medication to only those who not only have evidence of cirrhosis of the liver, but also esophageal varices, which are swollen esophageal veins prone to rupturing and causing almost immediate death in victims is really a Nazi prison camp level of care.”

Typically the only treatment provided by the DOC to Hep-C infected inmates has been an old regimen involving interferon, which has a very low success rate and which involves very serious complications in most patients. In contrast, each of several new anti-viral drugs for treating Hepatitis C, while costly, boast an effective cure rate of higher than 90%.

It’s not clear how far the DOC will be willing to pursue an appeal of this case. There are certainly plenty of people in the law-enforcement, justice and penal systems who would be happy to see Abu-Jamal (who was frequently was the target of unseemly calls to “Fry Mumia!” at demonstrations in Philadelphia by white off-duty cops in the Fraternal Order of Police over the years) get “executed” by medical neglect in prison. But having said that, letting the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in southern Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey, weigh in on this case risks having a three-judge panel uphold Judge Mariani. And that would then mean his decision would suddenly apply not just potentially to prisoners incarcerated within his jurisdiction in northeastern Pennsylvania, but to all inmates in prison in that whole tri-state appellate court jurisdiction who suffer from similar active Hepatitis C infections -- perhaps saddling those three state prison systems with as more than $1 billion in treatment costs (unless the states managed to negotiate reduced-cost anti-viral medication from the drug industry).

story | by Dr. Radut