by Marilyn Kai Jewett
Legions of labor leaders, elected officials and health professionals demand that Pennsylvania prison officials immediately begin treating Mumia Abu Jamal and approximately 10,000 other state prison inmates suffering from the Hepatitis C virus. The nation’s best known political prisoner nearly died earlier this year, and “faces an increasingly serious risk of suffering from fibrosis and cirrhosis, liver cancer, complications of his diabetes and eventual death.”
The People Demand Treatment for Mumia and 10,000 PA Inmates Suffering from Hepatitis C
by Marilyn Kai Jewett
“They contend that Abu-Jamal and the others are not sick enough to get immediate treatment.”
An international coalition of health care professionals, unionists, educators and lawmakers gathered recently at the American Friends Center in Philadelphia to discuss the issue of treatment for Mumia Abu-Jamal and other Pennsylvania inmates suffering from the Hepatitis C Virus.
Led by Pam Africa, spokesperson for International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal, the panel included Dr. Safiyya Shabazz, Abu-Jamal’s medical attorney Robert J. Boyle, and Pennsylvania State Rep. Vanessa Lowry Brown, chair of the House Subcommittee on Health Care. Also participating was a French delegation that included French Deputy at the European Parliament Patrick Le Hyaric, Professor Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol, and Jacky Hortaut -- all leaders of Collectif Francais Liberons Mumia.
Abu-Jamal has been severely ill with symptoms of the active Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) for the last nine months. In August 2015, it was confirmed that Abu-Jamal is suffering from an active HCV infection. New antiviral medications that can cure HCV are available. However, Pennsylvania Corrections officials have refused to treat Abu-Jamal and the 10,000 other inmates suffering from HCV with the new medications. They contend that Abu-Jamal and the others are not sick enough to get immediate treatment, in spite of the fact that the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America have updated HCV guidelines and now recommend treatment for patients in all stages of the disease, including mild liver disease.
In August 2015 Boyle filed a motion in federal court demanding Abu-Jamal be treated with the new anti-viral medication. Of course, the Department of Corrections filed a motion to oppose the injunction. Dr. Joseph Harris, a consultant to Boyle, submitted a sworn statement with the motion that established the need for immediate treatment for HCV. Harris’ statement cites new drugs approved by the Federal Drug Administration that provide safe, effective treatment for HCV. The new treatments take between 8-12 weeks to complete and have a very high cure rate with 90 percent of those treated with a combination of the drugs being completely cured. Harris also said that in his opinion, Abu-Jamal is suffering from a skin condition known as Neocrolytic Acral Erythema (NAE), first diagnosed in Egypt in 1996, that is almost always associated with an active HCV infection. He also said U.S. doctors are unfamiliar with the condition and its viral association, and that more than 92 percent of the cases involve Black patients.
“Abu-Jamal is suffering from a skin condition known as Neocrolytic Acral Erythema that is almost always associated with an active HCV infection.”
“Under current standards of care in the medical community, Mumia Abu-Jamal should immediately be treated for his Hepatitis C infection with Harvoni or other direct-acting antivirals,” stated Harris. He should also be given a zinc supplement of 220 milligrams per day to alleviate symptoms of NAE as well as the topical agent Protopic.”
Harris stated that failure to treat Abu-Jamal will result in serious harm to his health. “He faces an increasingly serious risk of suffering from fibrosis and cirrhosis, liver cancer, complications of his diabetes and eventual death.”
Abu-Jamal called-in during the panel discussion and was asked by Brown what they (PA lawmakers) could do. “Do what Dave (the late PA State Rep. David P. Richardson, Jr.) would have done,” he replied, speaking of the unwavering support of Richardson for true justice.
Brown has promised to hold hearings on the HCV treatment issue in Philadelphia. However, no time or place was given.
Supporters of Abu-Jamal have forwarded letters, resolutions and petitions to Gov. Tom Wolf and Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel demanding treatment for Abu-Jamal and others suffering from HCV.
One letter was signed by an international cadre of leaders that include South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan; former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; Princeton Professor Cornel West; N.Y. Congressman Charlie Rangel; N.Y. State Sen. Bill Perkins; former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney; Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, former president of the UN General Assembly; N.Y. State Assemblyman Charles Barron; Deputy Mayor of Paris, France Ian Brossat; Mayor of Saint-Denis, France Didier Paillard; Mayor of Rennes, France Nathalie Appere; Mayor of Malakoff, France Catherine Margate; Annette Groth, member of the Human Rights Committee of German Parliament; Katja Keul, member German Parliament; Sabine Losing, member European Parliament, coordinator Committee on Foreign Affairs; Heike Hansel, member German Parliament; and scores of others. Organizations with representatives signing the letter include the National Lawyers Guild, National Conference of Black Lawyers, Muslim Alliance of North America, Doro-Chiba International Labor Solidarity Committee Japan, Hoshino Defense Committee Japan and the Human Rights Defense Center.
Over 60 health care practitioners including doctors, nurses, health educators, health care unionists, psychologists, counselors and HCV specialists also sent a letter to Wolf and Wetzel appealing for HCV treatment for Pennsylvania inmates. Some of those signing include Judy Greenspan, former director of the HIV/HCV in Prison Project of California; Jill Wolf, Hepatitis C program director, Caring Ambassadors Program, Oregon; and Estella Vasquez, executive vice president, Local 1199 SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East among many others.
“Supporters of Abu-Jamal contend that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is trying to execute him by medical neglect since his death sentence was overturned.”
The executive boards of several labor unions also forwarded letters and resolutions to Wolf and Wetzel appealing for treatment for Abu-Jamal and other inmates suffering from HCV. Those unions include the San Francisco Labor Council; New York Metro Local 10, American Postal Workers Union; New York Chapter, May 1st Coalition for Worker & Immigrant Rights; National Writers Union; United Auto Workers Union 1981; and United Steel Workers, Local 8751, District 4.
The absence of support from Pennsylvania and Philadelphia lawmakers, unionists and organizations was glaring, especially since firefighters in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania had to fight for years to be covered for HCV under Worker’s Compensation. Legislation sponsored by State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas expanded Worker's Compensation benefits to police, firefighters, paramedics, rescue, correctional, forensic and emergency personnel who contract Hepatitis C while on duty. So correctional employees are covered for treatment for HCV, but the inmates should be denied treatment? Fair? You be the judge.
Africa and supporters of Abu-Jamal contend that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is trying to execute him by medical neglect since his death sentence was overturned. They also contend that it’s reprehensible, murderous and inhuman to withhold medical treatment to Abu-Jamal and the 10,000 other Pennsylvania inmates suffering from HCV – just because. Whether Brown will actually hold the hearing or the Legislature will act to amend the law to include inmates remains to be seen. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Africa said an oral argument on the motion for the injunction will take place December 18 at the U.S. District Court in Scranton before Judge Robert Mariani.
Ten thousand of our relatives and neighbors in Pennsylvania’s prison industrial complex are dying a slow death as the result of HCV due to medical neglect. If that’s okay with you then remain unconscious, apathetic and do nothing. If it’s not okay, then stand up, speak out and remember who took action to change things for the better, not just talk, when you vote in the May 2016 primary.