Federal Judge Orders Pennsylvania to Provide Former Black Panther with Potentially Life-Saving Medical Treatment

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Former Black Panther and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Photo by Lisa Terry / Liaison Agency.

A federal court has ordered the state of Pennsylvania to provide journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal with life-saving medication to treat his hepatitis C infection.

U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani on Tuesday, Jan. 3, ruled that Abu-Jamal must be seen by a doctor within the next two weeks to determine if there’s a medical reason as to why he shouldn’t receive the dire direct-acting antiviral medication, according to Philly. com.

The former Black Panther is currently serving a life sentence at a Pennsylvania prison for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, a charge he has staunchly denied and fought for years. If he is cleared for medical treatment, the state will be responsible for providing Abu-Jamal with the newly developed, and pricey, drug. 

The federal ruling comes just two years after the Pennsylvania inmate went into diabetic shock and was hospitalized for what turned out to be hepatitis C. A suit filed by Abu-Jamal against the State Correctional Institution — Mahanoy and medical professionals in August 2015 alleged that doctors detected hepatitis antibodies in his system as early as 2012 but didn’t inform him of their findings. The infection, transmitted through contact with infected blood, has the potential to cause liver disease, liver cancer and death if left untreated.

The lawsuit accused medical professionals of failing to treat Abu-Jamal’s symptoms, which included severe swelling, an outbreak of infected rashes on his body and higher-than-normal glucose levels in his blood. It also cited medical neglect on the part of the state correctional institute, which it claimed caused the former Black Panther’s “nearly fatal episode and … severe injuries, including diabetic ketoacidosis, new-onset diabetes … dehydration, acute kidney injury, hyponatremia, hypokalemia and severe psychological pain and suffering.”

Researchers estimate that Abu-Jamal is just one of about 7,000 Pennsylvania inmates living with hepatitis C. Providing medical treatment to each of them, at a cost of $84,000-$90,000 per person, would cost the state $600 million, Philly.com reported.

Robert Boyle, an attorney for Abu-Jamal, said he expects the state to appeal Mariani’s ruling. “The struggle is far from over. The DOC will no doubt appeal this ruling,” he said. “But it’s a victory!”

The state has maintained that the imprisoned journalist, who was initially sentenced to death but later had his term commuted to life in prison, didn’t qualify to receive the pricey hepatitis C treatments. In place of the DDA medication, the 2015 lawsuit claimed that medical staff instead gave him ineffective ointments and steroids to ease his symptoms.

ThinkProgress reported that while taxpayers have financed the groundbreaking research behind medicines to treat hep C, big pharmaceutical companies like Gilead Sciences have since jacked up the price for treatment. A single pill can cost up to $1,000, while treatment for a 12-week period adds up to nearly $84,000.

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