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NAT launches new report on RITA testing and criminal prosecution.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

NAT has launched a report looking at the validity and meaning of RITA tests (Recent Infection Testing Algorithm) in the context of criminal prosecutions for HIV transmission. RITA tests estimate the likelihood that a person diagnosed HIV positive has been infected recently (usually within the previous six months).

The report, ‘Estimating the likelihood of recent HIV infection: Implications for criminal prosecution’  is aimed at professionals working in the criminal justice system and HIV specialists who may be called on as expert witnesses in criminal HIV transmission cases.
At present, no scientific test is able to conclusively state when an individual acquired HIV, but RITA testing is widely used in many countries to estimate the likelihood of recent HIV infection for public health purposes. However, the UK is the only country to communicate individual RITA test results to patients. There are laws in the UK which allow people to be prosecuted for transmitting HIV to another person, so it is important RITA tests and their limitations are fully understood and not misused in criminal proceedings. 
The report details how RITA tests are not reliable as evidence of recent HIV infection for individuals in the context of criminal proceedings because they are designed to work on a population level (based on averages) rather than on an individual level. Furthermore, significant rates of false RITA test results have been reported in individuals.
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive of NAT (National AIDS Trust), comments:
‘Scientific advances such as RITA testing are extremely welcome when estimating the recency of HIV infection on a population level, especially as late diagnosis is a huge issue. However, it is crucial that the limitations of RITA tests are fully understood and are not used out of context, for example during criminal proceedings.  Additionally, any clinic which delivers RITA test results to patients must ensure they clearly and effective communicate the limitations of these tests to individuals, as well as provide patients with further written information.’
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Notes to the editor:

UNAIDS has produced a feature on this report which can be accessed here.
The full report ‘Estimating the likelihood of recent HIV infection: Implications for criminal prosecution’ can be downloaded here.
NAT would like to thank Dr Cate Hankins, Chief Scientific Adviser to UNAIDS, Derek Christie, Scientific Adviser, UNAIDS, and Dr Matthew Weait, Reader in Socio-Legal Studies, Birkbeck College, London, for their helpful suggestions during the drafting of this report.
NAT is grateful to UNAIDS and Aids Fonds Netherlands for their financial contributions towards the development and production of this document. The opinions expressed in the report are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views, positions or policies of UNAIDS or Aids Fonds Netherlands.
For further information please contact:
Charli Scouller
Communications Manager
020 7814 6733
NAT (National AIDS Trust) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. We provide fresh thinking, expert advice and practical resources. We campaign for change.
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