SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) — Mumia Abu-Jamal has sued the Pennsylvania prison system in federal court, claiming it's denying him life-saving treatment for hepatitis C, that may kill him.
Abu-Jamal, 62, was sentenced to death in 1982 for killing Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole. He is serving his time at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy, a 1,000-bed medium-security prison in Frackville, Pa.
Called "perhaps the world's best known death row inmate" by The New York Times, Abu-Jamal has numerous supporters across the nation, who believe he was railroaded in an unfair trial.
Abu-Jamal sued Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, five top officials in the department's Bureau of Health Care Services, medical contractor Correct Care Solutions, and the physician assigned to treat him, on Sept. 30.
He says that "he has requested that he be provided with anti-viral medication that would cure his disease but the defendants have denied that treatment."
Abu-Jamal says he tested positive for the hepatitis C antibody in 2012 and by August 2014, "the infection began to manifest itself through a severe skin rash on that itched incessantly."
He was given steroid creams as treatments, but they proved ineffective. By February 2015, the rash covered 70 percent of his body and forced him to use a wheelchair, Abu-Jamal says in the complaint.
In March 2015 he lost consciousness and went into diabetic shock. After he was released from a hospital, he says, no one on the jail's medical staff "took any steps to investigate whether the hepatitis C may be the cause of the rash and/or other medical issues."
He submitted a grievance over the poor care in April, but was denied, as was an appeal. He was hospitalized again in May, and in July "blood work performed by DOC medical staff at Mahanoy revealed a viral load, meaning that plaintiff has active hepatitis C and that the disease is chronic," the complaint states.
But Abu-Jamal says no action was taken after that diagnosis.
"On several occasions between late July 2015 and September 2015, plaintiff requested from his treating physicians that his hepatitis C be treated with either Harvoni or Sovaldi, the two anti-viral medications. The physicians told him that the matter was out of their hands, that the DOC was not treating anyone with the antivirals because of the medications' cost."
Harvoni, a "miracle drug" for hepatitis C, with no apparent side effects, costs about $90,000 for a complete regimen of pills.
Abu-Jamal says that after the drugs became available in 2013, the Department of Corrections, through its Bureau of Health Services, "ceased treating all inmates in the custody of the DOC who have active or chronic hepatitis C."
He claims that in late 2015, defendant Paul Noel, the DOC's Chief of Clinical Services, "formulated and adopted a medical protocol concerning who would be treated and not treated with hepatitis C anti-viral drugs."
"(O)nly inmates with decompensated cirrhosis with bleeding are authorized to receive the anti-drugs," Abu-Jamal says. He says the defendants adopted the policy "even though they knew that denying treatment to inmates who did not fall under the protocol had no medical justification, causes harm to those inmates' health and places them at risk of death."
That protocol remains in effect to this day, as Abu-Jamal's condition deteriorates, and his blood work indicates that "there is a more than 50 percent chance that plaintiff's disease has already progressed to cirrhosis and that he has suffered irreparable liver damage," according to the complaint.
The Department of Corrections said it does not comment on pending litigation.
Abu-Jamal seeks an injunction "to immediately provide [him] with the FDA approved hepatitis C direct-acting antiviral medications."
His lead counsel is Bret Grote with the Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsburgh.
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