Number of Adult Deaths in South Africa Up 44% Over Past Six Years; Researchers Attribute Rise to HIV/AIDS, Study Says
The number of deaths among South African adults has increased by almost 50% over the past six years -- partially because of the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic -- according to a study submitted for publication in the South African Medical Journal, Reuters reports. Researchers from the country's Medical Research Council examined official death statistics for 1998 through 2003. Researchers found that the number of registered deaths for South Africans between the ages of 15 and 49 increased 68% from 272,000 in 1998 to 457,000 in 2003. Accounting for population growth and improved reporting, researchers determined the overall number of deaths increased 44%, Reuters reports. Researchers also found that the number of deaths among women ages 20 to 49 -- one of the country's highest risk groups for HIV/AIDS -- increased 168% over the same time period. The study does not specifically estimate information on AIDS-related deaths in the country, Reuters reports.
MRC statistician Ria Laubscher said, "There is a distinct rise in deaths in the younger, sexually active age groups. It is our view that this is mainly due to AIDS." She said that the study was intended to provide "concrete information" on the country's mortality rate, according to Reuters. She added, "We thought we really must respond [to South African President Thabo Mbeki]. We said: 'Let's just put it to them in plain numbers.'" Laubscher said, "We know that the epidemic is steep among women, but we were horrified at the numbers," adding, "At some point there will be a plateau, but we haven't reached it yet" (Quinn, Reuters, 3/3). Nonhlanhla Nkabinde, United Democratic Movement spokesperson on health, said that the study findings represent "further embarrassment" for a country that continues to disagree about its HIV/AIDS statistics, the SAPA/Mail & Guardian reports. Nkabinde added that the government should make HIV/AIDS notifiable "so that the bickering about statistics can come to an end and everybody can focus on saving lives and providing treatment." Mbeki spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said that the president would not comment on the study, but Khumalo added that the South African government is concerned about the epidemic. Khumalo said, "South Africa will spend [$1.76 billion] on AIDS in the next three years. We have the best plan on the continent. Government is very committed to the fight against AIDS" (SAPA/Mail & Guardian, 3/3).