Editorial: The good news on death stats

“One of the best ways to help the living is by counting the dead,” Statistics South Africa said in its report on mortality in South Africa, released this week. It says that HIV-related disease as a cause of death has moved up from sixth to third place. But public health experts say this is actually good news: doctors who used to give tuberculosis or meningitis as the causes of deaths from HIV are now more comfortable with saying HIV itself was the cause.

The country’s overall mortality rate decreased by 6.5% between 2012 and 2013. In other words, fewer people in South Africa are dying. A 2012 Lancet study directly linked this increased life expectancy – from 54 years in 2009 to 60 years in 2012 – to the public sector’s HIV treatment programme, which now provides free antiretrovirals to 2.7?million HIV-positive South Africans.

HIV expert Salim Abdool-Karim estimates that, in the past, HIV-related deaths made up a third to 40% of the annual total. Stats SA’s numbers do not reflect this: over the past two years, reported HIV deaths have increased from 3.1% to 5.1%.

A 2011 World Health Organisation bulletin, however, said that up to 94% of deaths from Aids between 1996 and 2006 were misclassified. The increase reported by Stats SA could be a result of the improved filling-in of death notifications.

An alarming shift is the increase in diabetes as a cause of death: 4.8% of all deaths recorded last year. South Africa has one of the fastest-growing diabetes epidemics in the world, with obesity at its root. The Lancet said we are the fattest nation in Africa: 70% of women and 40% of men have much more body fat than is healthy.


Ironically, the fact that HIV-positive South Africans are now living longer is also contributing to higher diabetes figures, because the condition generally emerges later in life.

But the gain of South Africans living longer should not be underestimated: we now have significantly more people to contribute to the country’s economy because, unlike most diseases, which prey on the oldest and youngest among us, HIV tends to kill people in the most productive years of their lives.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

What the Biden presidency may mean for Africa

The new US administration has an interest and much expertise in Africa. But given the scale of the priorities the administration faces, Africa must not expect to feature too prominently

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…