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March 31, 2017

Mumia Abu-Jamal to begin expensive hepatitis C treatment next week

Former death-row inmate and convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal will begin taking an expensive hepatitis C drug next week, according to court papers.

A status report filed Friday on Abu-Jamal's federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said: 

Defendants respectfully write to inform the Court of a development in the treatment of Plaintiff Mumia Abu-Jamal. Following recent medical testing and a review of the results thereof, Plaintiff will be treated with the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved Hepatitis C [direct]-acting antiviral medication in accordance with the Hepatitis C protocol of the Department of Corrections.

Because this is the nature of the injunctive relief as requested by Plaintiff in the Complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Department hereby submits that this action is moot and should be dismissed as such. 

Abu-Jamal, 62, is serving a life term at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Schuylkill County,  for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

The fast-acting antiviral treatment consists of one pill per day for 12 to 24 weeks, and has a cure rate of more than 90 percent.

Abu-Jamal suffered renal failure two years ago and has been fighting to be administered the hepatitis C treatment ever since.

"For the last 53 days, the DOC, prison medical staff, and Legal Department have stood in contempt of court following the order to treat Mumia," said a statement from Abu-Jamal supporters. "The DOC in defiance of the Injunction filed a stay, hoping the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals would bail them out and block Mumia's treatment."

The Department of Corrections lost its appeal in the Third Circuit on Monday, denying its request to withhold treatment. The court upheld a Jan. 3, 2017, preliminary injunction that ordered the treatment.

"Our position has always been that patients are prioritized for treatment with direct acting antiviral medications in accordance with the progression of the disease," said Amy Worden, a DOC spokeswoman. "Based upon recent testing, Mr. Abu-Jamal is ranked among those patients eligible to receive medication in accordance with DOC’s treatment protocol."

She noted there are at least 5,000 inmates with hepatitis C and the cost to treat an individual is $50,000 to $60,000.

According to supporters, Abu-Jamal has been told he has cirrhosis of the liver.

"This progression of liver damage is a direct consequence of being denied treatment for two years, and has increased the possibility of other health complications and potential for liver cancer," their statement said.

In September, a federal judge in Pennsylvania blasted the prison policy denying Abu-Jamal and other inmates the hepatitis C drug until they had advanced liver damage.

U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani wrote that the policy amounted to "conscious disregard" for the inmates' health, but noted that prisons, Medicaid officials and courts across the country are struggling to decide who should get the anti-viral drugs.

The judge nonetheless rejected Abu-Jamal's bid for treatment at the time after concluding that the former Black Panther and radio reporter sued the wrong prison officials. His lawyers then refiled to add the members of the hepatitis treatment committee who created the policy.

Experts told the judge the latest anti-viral drugs are highly effective, offering cure rates as high as 90 to 95 percent. Researchers say that nearly one in five inmates in the United States are infected with hepatitis C, many from sharing needles during illegal drug use.

Abu-Jamal spent decades on death row before the death sentence was set aside on appeal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.