Business Day, 26 November 2002, Where Do the Extra Deaths Come From?

Having seen preliminary details of the Statistics SA (Stats SA) report into the causes of deaths in SA (oops, this is the issue that is evidently sensitive to the president), I hereby stick my neck out and say that it is a load of rubbish.

The report claims that "unnatural causes" such as injuries (sic), road accidents, suicides and drownings constituted the largest cause of deaths between 1997 and last year. Nonsense.

The report then evidently says that HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc are behind this, but rising. Road deaths run at about 11000 a year, murders at about 26000. I think that I am safe in saying that other accidents, drowning and suicide will be less than 13000 a year, i.e. we have less than 50000 deaths a year from these causes.

Depending on which figures you consult, total deaths have increased from about 300000 in 1995 (the year used by President Thabo Mbeki in his infamous BBC interview) to more than 700000 last year. The deaths due to the "unnatural causes" in the Stats SA report will not have altered much over this time period.

Prior to 1995, deaths rose between 5% and 10% each year (by 1995, the AIDS factor must already have been showing). Even allowing the maximum "normal" increase in the death rate, we would not have reached more than 500000 to 550000 deaths last year (more likely 450000 or less). Where did the about 150000 extra deaths come from?

It is interesting that the website of the US's Centre for Disease Control that Mbeki once quoted in an attempt to discredit antiretrovirals also states that SA has 250000 deaths a year attributable to AIDS. This is much more in line with the oh-so-unpopular Medical Research Council report. Let's just hope that somebody can give us a good, "scientific" analysis of the Stats SA report.