South African Medical Research Council Report Says AIDS is Nation’s Leading Cause of Death
AIDS is the leading cause of death among South Africans and could claim as many as six million lives in the country by 2010 if preventive measures are not taken, according to an unreleased report by the South African Medical Research Council, Johannesburg's Sunday Times reports. Among South Africans between the ages of 15 and 49, 40% of deaths last year were AIDS-related, the report, titled "The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Adult Mortality in South Africa," states. The report's findings stand in contrast to President Thabo Mbeki's insistence that other causes such as violence and poverty are the nation's leading killers (Taitz, Sunday Times, 9/16). Last Monday, Business Day reported that Mbeki had ordered the government to reevaluate its social policy spending in light of 1995 data from the World Health Organization that said "external causes" such as accidents, homicide and suicide, not HIV/AIDS, constitute the leading causes of death in the nation. The WHO figures, which Mbeki reportedly found on the Internet, showed that external causes were responsible for 19.8% of deaths, while HIV/AIDS accounted for 2.2% of deaths (Business Day, 9/10). In an Aug. 6 letter to Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Mbeki asked that she share the statistics with the cabinet's "social cluster" and consider what policies the government has in place to reduce deaths, whether resources are properly allocated in light of the statistics and whether the country's medical institutions are properly prepared to deal with the types of deaths mentioned in the report (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/11).
'Confusion' Among Officials
The MRC report, which is based on data from the South African Health Department's antenatal survey and the Actuarial Society of South Africa's AIDS model, found "rapid changes" since 1997 in the country's mortality figures among young adults. The report predicts that if nothing is done to halt the spread of HIV, by 2010 there will be a "three-fold" increase in deaths among children between the ages of one and five; AIDS-related deaths will account for twice as many deaths as all other causes combined; and population growth will be halted. According to the Sunday Times, there appears to be "confusion" among government officials about the soon-to-be-released report. On Thursday, Tshabalala-Msimang told a Parliament press briefing that the MRC researchers had "worked alone outside the collective which had been established," a fact that "worrie[d]" the government. However, a Health Department statement released Monday with Tshabalala-Msimang's name on it said that the report was compiled in part because of a recommendation by the Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel to assemble current AIDS mortality data. Mbeki's spokesperson, Bheki Khumalo, would not comment on the "issues of statistics" or why Mbeki "had not spoken to local researchers" regarding the mortality estimates. In a preface to the report, obtained by the Times, MRC President Dr. Malegapuru William Makgoba said that denial was "predictably the first African public response to the [AIDS] epidemic," because the disease is associated with homosexuality, a practice deemed "un-African" by many (Sunday Times, 9/16).