Forty Percent of South African Adult Deaths Last Year Were AIDS-Related, Medical Research Council Report States
AIDS is the leading cause of death among South Africans, particularly young adults, according to a mortality report released yesterday by the Medical Research Council, South Africa's top medical body, the New York Times reports. The report, which examined mortality data as far back as 1985, said that AIDS-related illnesses were responsible for 40% of South African adult deaths last year (approximately 150,000) and could kill a cumulative total of five million to seven million people by 2010, with about 780,000 adult AIDS-related deaths expected in 2010. According to the report, from July 1999 to June 2000 there were more reported deaths among women in their mid-20s than women in their 60s, a "unique phenomenon in biology." The actual figures could be even more disparate because deaths are often underreported. "There is no precedent for this in our history. You have a situation where the younger females who are supposed to be healthy and productive are dying in greater numbers than their mothers," MRC President Dr. Malegaparu Makgoba said (Swarns, New York Times, 10/17). The report also predicted that South African life expectancy would decrease from 54 years to 41 years by the end of the decade.
Challenging the Findings
The government has disputed the MRC's findings and will release its own mortality report in December. It had tried to delay the release of the MRC report until then, but a partial copy was leaked to the media last month, prompting the government to permit its release. Statistics South Africa, which prepared the government report, called the MRC findings "badly flawed," adding that its samples were not representative and the HIV transmission rate it used in calculations was too high. A lower transmission rate would lower death estimates for 2010 to between one million and two million, according to the government agency. Rob Dorrington, one of the MRC report authors and a professor at the University of Cape Town's Center for Actuarial Research, called Statistics SA's critique of the report "prime evidence of the little knowledge or experience they have in this area" (Cohen, AP/Newsday, 10/16). According to the MRC report, researchers "looked at alternative explanations for [the mortality] patterns and found none of them plausible."
Despite the MRC's findings, it appears "unlikely ... that the government will take aggressive action" against HIV/AIDS, the Times reports (New York Times, 10/17). President Thabo Mbeki, citing a six-year-old World Health Organization report, has maintained that external causes such as violence are the country's leading causes of death (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/11). Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Essop Pahad, Mbeki's "right-hand man," supported that position in a recent article in a Johannesburg Sunday newspaper, calling the MRC report a "massive propaganda tool" for those who want the government to provide antiretroviral therapy to those with HIV/AIDS (McGreal, Guardian, 10/17). Yesterday, Tshabalala-Msimang told the National Council of Province's public service committee that although HIV/AIDS is a "huge problem," government officials "feel comfortable that what we are doing, and our responses, are appropriate" (Xinhua News Agency, 10/16).