PlusNews, 22 November 2002, SOUTH AFRICA: Women most at risk of HIV/AIDS

JOHANNESBURG, (IRIN) - More women than men are dying of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, a study of death certificates by Statistics SA has found.

The study, which was commissioned by the cabinet after a previous interpretative report by the Medical Research Council was questioned, found that the highest death rate among females was in the 15-39 age group at 8.5 percent of total mortality. African females were the most severely affected at 12.7 percent of HIV/AIDS deaths.

White females were the least affected at only 0.7 percent of deaths due to this cause.

In the 15 to 29 age group, HIV/AIDS deaths among females was about three times higher than among males.

The overall proportion of deaths due to HIV/AIDS in the country had nearly doubled from 4.6 percent in 1997 to 8.7 percent in 2001, the report said.

"We have seen for a long time here in Africa that women are infected earlier (in age)," Dr James McIntyre, head of the Perinatal HIV/AIDS research unit in the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, south of Johannesburg, told PlusNews.

This could be because of trans-generational sex where men think young girls are safer, and forced sex, McIntyre said.

He pointed out that there were not enough HIV/AIDS tests conducted on men, but researchers were able to conduct tests regularly on women who visited ante-natal clinics during pregnancy.

The effect of rape on the spread of the virus was also not tested, he said.

"Many women also tend to delay seeking care because they are either too busy looking after their family or a sick partner," McIntyre added.

Males, on the other hand, had the highest prevalence of Tuberculosis (TB) and unspecified unnatural causes like suicides, drowning and motor accidents. The proportion of males dying from unspecified unnatural causes was about three times that of females.

The researchers said that because the study was confined to entries on death certificates, further studies would be necessary to examine whether causes of death like pneumonia and TB were related to HIV/AIDS.

The study found that the proportion of children up to the age of 14 dying from HIV/AIDS had approximately doubled, although the primary cause of death in this age group was from intestinal infectious diseases.

Again females had a higher rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Deaths in this age group increased from 5.5 percent to 11.2 percent for males and from 6.1 percent to 11.6 percent for females. While 10.8 percent of females in this age group died from HIV/AIDS in 1997, the corresponding figure stood at 16.2 percent by 2001, the report said.

The prevalence of TB deaths was lowest among children up to the age of 14 at two percent but malnutrition accounted for 6.5 percent and 6.1 percent of deaths among males and females in that age group respectively.