by Judy Greenspan, HIV in Prison Committee, California Prison Focus
HIV+ women prisoners at the Central California Women’s Facility desperately need your help. Women with HIV have always faced discrimination, medical neglect and a lack of confidentiality concerning their medical status. However, the rising epidemic of Hepatitis C (especially among the HIV+ women) and recent changes in the delivery of HIV medications at CCWF have sparked a new crisis.
At the end of December, CCWF changed the way the prison distributes HIV medications. Up until that time, women received a monthly supply of their pills and dosed privately in their cells. All of a sudden, CCWF made HIV medications “hot meds.” HIV+ women now have to stand on pill call line three times a day to be watched while they receive and take their medications. Some of the HIV+ women are supposed to dose between 4 and 6 times a day but now have to conform to this set schedule. The change in med delivery is a serious invasion of the privacy rights of the HIV+ women. Now everyone will know who is postive.
We have recently received many reports from HIV+ women about the difficulty of standing outside in the rain and cold for more than an hour, 3 times a day. Many women have already decided to stop taking their medications rather than risk missing doses or jeopardizing their health. More than 20 HIV+ women signed a group grievance demanding that the antivirals (HIV medications) be given back to them in 30-day intervals by the pharmacy. Beverly Henry
(“Chopper”), an HIV+ prisoner activist, has collected statements from many women protesting the new policy.
Judy Ricci writes from inside, “Not only does this policy affect those of us who do take medication (you know – every 8 hours, with different needs around food intake in correlation to med taking) – but now we’re being denied one of our doses on Sundays and holidays because there is no mid-day med line on those days. It’s like they’re going out of their way to make sure that there’s no possible way any of us could follow these complicated drug schedules that are difficult to adhere to in the best of situations.”
The new HIV treatment cocktails, as they are called, must be taken consistently or else the patient will become resistant to the drugs, creating a new multi-drug resistant strain of HIV that is very harmful. Once patients start on HIV medications, the general understanding is that they will have to take these drugs for the rest of their lives. The new CCWF hot med policy seriously jeopardizes the lives of women with HIV.
The fastest growing epidemic among people with the history of injection drug use is Hepatitis C. The California Department of Corrections estimates that over 60% of all women prisoners have this chronic illness. While there is no cure for Hep C which can be very painful, debilitating and eventually lead to death, there are drugs like interferon that can help control serious bouts of the illness. The California Department of Corrections recently started offering interferon to women prisoners. However, CDC policies state that HIV+ women are excluded from this Hepatitis C treatment. This policy is not only discriminatory but extremely detrimental to the health and well-being of HIV+ women. There should not be an across-the- board exclusion from interferon treatment. Women with HIV should be among the first considered for interferon treatment rather than the last.
Natalie Baret, a woman living with HIV and Hepatitis C writes, “I am at my wits’ end on what to do. What I don’t understand is if someone is in pain, anyone, and there is nothing they can do but give them something to make them comfortable, especially someone with a terminal illness, why not help them? Can someone please help?” [After we wrote a letter protesting Ms. Baret’s exclusion from Hep C treatment, she was placed on interferon for about two weeks and then abruptly taken off without explanation!]
Letters protesting the new “hot med” policy and the denial of Hepatitis C treatment to HIV+ women should be sent to Director C.A. Terhune, California Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283-0001; fax no. (916) 322-2877.
We invite you to join us as we speak out loudly in support of HIV+ women. For more information contact the HIV in Prison Committee of California Prison Focus, 2940 16th Street, #100, San Francisco, CA 94103; (510) 533-2590.