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» 07.12.2009 - SA urged to improve health care for migrants
» 05.11.2009 - South African mortality crisis overcome
» 24.10.2008 - SA recalls White Rabbit sweets
» 18.07.2008 - Mandela frowns at gap between rich and poor
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» 28.05.2004 - Brain drain: "Europe poaching African healthcare workers"

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South Africa
Health | Science - Education

Longer life in SA may reflect AIDS victory

Emergency reception at Gauteng hospital, South Africa

© Gauteng Health Dept/afrol News
afrol News, 18 November
- New statistics show that South Africa's declining life expectation turned already in 2005, with mortality rates for both sexes decreasing since that. Better HIV/AIDS treatment may be the cause.

Statistics South Africa (SSA) today released its newest mortality data for the country, demonstrating that the negative trends widely attributed to the AIDS pandemic turned already in 2005. Indeed, the entire Southern African region had seen a dramatically declining life expectancy since the pandemic struck.

However, in South Africa, life expectancy since 2005 has been increasing. As SSA today published its detailed mortality statistics for the country in 2008 in a 100-page report, it was clear that the positive trend is accelerating.

"The number of deaths decreased by 1.6 percent between 2006 and 2007 and by 1.8 percent between 2007 and 2008," according to the SSA report. The strongest decline in deaths during the year had been among South African women.

For the median age of death of South Africans, the lowering mortality rate is having a major impact. Data go back to 1997, as life expectancy was already declining. Then, the typical South African died at 51.2 years. The median age of death sank dramatically until 2004, getting as low as 42.4 year. Since that, it has been rising, to 44.9 years in 2008.

Also striking is the distribution of sexes in South Africa's mortality. In the peak years of abnormal mortality rates, 2002-2005, women had higher mortality rates than men. Until 2007, South African women even died younger than men. In 2008, however, the globally normal trend is again returning to South Africa, with women having a longer life expectancy than men.

Somewhat surprisingly, the SSA report does not immediately support the obvious theory that better AIDS treatment in the country had led to this d

Median ages at death in South Africa 1997-2007 (male: yellow; female: orange)

© Stats SA/afrol News
ecline in mortality. Actually, the number of deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS in death certificates increased markedly from 2007 to 2008.

Causes of death, as reported by medical staff in standard "death notification forms", in 2008 showed that the main group of registered death causes was "certain infectious and parasitic diseases, responsible for about a quarter (26.4 percent) of all deaths." This group includes tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia, HIV and "other viral diseases".

While the SSA report does not analyse these seemingly confusing data, sticking strictly to the official causes of death as reported by South African medical staff. Other sources however repeatedly have pointed to the HIV/AIDS "taboo" among the population, which will lead many medics to report other causes of death than AIDS in respect of the diseases and his or her family.

Tuberculosis, for example, is a disease often developed by HIV infected, and can easily be registered as the cause of death instead of HIV/AIDS. Strikingly, tuberculosis is the main cause of death among South Africans, with "influenza and pneumonia" ranking second.

These two causes of death saw the largest reduction in numbers from 2007 to 2008, accounting for more than half of the declining mortality in the period. Much of these numbers may be attributed to better AIDS treatment in South Africa.

The "increase" in deaths related to HIV/AIDS from 2007 to 2008 could also be explained by society becoming increasingly open about the "taboo" disease. However, strikingly, HIV/AIDS is only listed as a top-ten cause of death among children in 2008; not among adults.

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