South Africa's adult death rate has jumped by almost 50% over the past six years and the country's devastating AIDS epidemic is probably the primary cause, researchers said Wednesday.
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, said Ria Laubscher, a statistician at South Africa's independent Medical Research Council (MRC).
South Africa has the world's single highest AIDS caseload, with an estimated 5.3 million of its 45 million people infected.
Despite the epidemic's punishing human and economic toll, President Thabo Mbeki's government has moved slowly in fighting
AIDS-a sluggish response that critics blame on political disputes over the cause, severity and treatment of the disease.
Mbeki, who in the past has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, angered activists last month when he said South Africa had few reliable statistics on AIDS deaths and could not assess the real extent of the epidemic.
Activists blame the government for underreporting AIDS deaths, noting that many people die of HIV-related causes such as tuberculosis or other opportunistic illnesses.
Laubscher said the MRC's study, based on official death statistics from 1998 to 2003, was aimed at providing concrete information to show that South Africa's overall death toll had leapt in six years.
We thought we really must respond (to Mbeki), Laubscher said. We said: 'Let's just put it to them in plain
The study, which has been submitted for publication in the South African Medical Journal, follows earlier MRC research, which estimated that in 2000 AIDS accounted for about 40 percent of the deaths of South Africans between 15-49 years old.
The current study does not estimate a specific number of deaths caused by AIDS. But it does show that overall death rates in the country were up sharply, particularly among women.
The MRC researchers found that the number of registered deaths of those between 15 and 49 had jumped 68 percent over the past six years to 457,000 in 2003 from 272,000 in 1998.
Considering population growth and improved reporting, which could account for some of the increase, the study concluded the overall number of deaths had jumped by 44 percent.
Deaths among women between the ages of 20 and 49, one of the groups most at risk for contracting AIDS, were up an astounding 168 percent, the study said.
We know that the epidemic is steep among women, but we were horrified at the numbers, Laubscher said, adding that death rates could be expected to rise even further in coming years.
At some point there will be a plateau, but we haven't reached it yet, she said.
South Africa's government, which has long resisted AIDS-fighting anti-retroviral drugs as expensive and potentially toxic, last year bowed to domestic and international pressure and pledged to begin a nationwide drug treatment program.
While that program has not yet been launched, officials say South Africa now has the most comprehensive AIDS strategy in Africa and will spend the equivalent of about $320 million on drug treatment over the next three years.(
Source: Reuters Health 03 March 2004).