South African Health Minister Says Violence ‘Rivals’ AIDS as Cause of Death for South Africans
South African Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said yesterday that new mortality statistics show that violence "rivals AIDS as a threat to South African society," Reuters reports. Tshabalala-Msimang said that a three-year study of the country's mortality statistics reveals that approximately 25% of all deaths are "non-natural" and due to causes such as homicide, accident and suicide. The release of the statistics comes two days after South African President Thabo Mbeki said in a BBC interview that violence, not HIV/AIDS, was the "largest single cause of death" among South Africans and the "greatest threat to the country." But Tshabalala-Msimang said that statistics on AIDS-related deaths "were not yet accurate enough to compare with data on violent deaths." She added, "Are we perhaps not being sidetracked and only looking at one social condition at the expense of others. I am not saying that issues of HIV and AIDS should be relegated simply because we are now talking about violence, but it does demonstrate the magnitude of the problem [of violence]." UNAIDS estimates that between 180,000 and 250,000 adults died from AIDS-related infections in 1999. Tshabalala-Msimang said that 60,000 accidental deaths occurred in the country during that same time period, but added that the government has "no reliable statistics on ... causes of death" (Boyle, Reuters, 8/8).
Mbeki's Statements 'Disappointing'
The South African political party United Democratic Movement said that Mbeki's claim that violence is the leading cause of death in South Africa "play[s] down the horrific scale of suffering and death that HIV/AIDS wreaks on South Africa," SAPA/BBC Monitoring reports. UDM spokesperson Annelize van Wyk said that Mbeki "conveniently grabbed the issue of violence to avoid discussions on HIV/AIDS, without giving proper attention to the link between violence and HIV/AIDS." Van Wyk said, "[I]t is disappointing that the president of the country would only admit to the astronomical rate of violence and murder in South Africa, in an effort to divert attention from another of his ill-considered positions," referring to Mbeki's questioning of the causal link between HIV and AIDS (SAPA/BBC Monitoring, 8/7).