South Africa: Statistics SA "Buried" Death Report, Says Treatment Action Campaign
June 23, 2006
Speaking at the close of a three-day conference on HIV and TB in Cape Town recently, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) Chairperson Zackie Achmat slammed official statistics agency Statistics SA for the "surreptitious" release of its latest report on the cause of death among South Africans from 1997 to 2004.
The report showed that TB was the leading cause of mortality in 2003, followed by pneumonia and influenza. Though the report did not focus specifically on HIV, indirect evidence shows the country's epidemic is contributing to the increase in death among adults as the number of deaths from opportunistic infections associated with HIV is rising.
The quiet publication of the report on May 31 contrasts with the release last February of the 2005 report, which examined causes of death between 1997 and 2003. It came amid media speculation over delays in its publication, and was accompanied by Statistician-General Pali Lehohla's full media briefing.
Trevor Oosterwyk, Stats SA spokesperson, said the agency published notice of the 2006 report's release on its Web site a week before publication. Since Stats SA briefed the media on the collection and analysis of death certificate data last year, Oosterwyk said, it did not feel it necessary to do so again this year.
Achmat said the report showed TB deaths rose from 22,000 in 1997 to 67,000 in 2003. "That is a phenomenal increase by anyone's standards," he said, noting that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang failed to mention the contents of the report during her budget debate in Parliament two weeks ago.
After slight revisions to the 1997-2002 figures, the report showed that the total number of recorded deaths increased 74 percent from 317,000 in 1997 to 543,000 in 2003. Most deaths in 2003 occurred among young adults, peaking in the age group 30-34. In a normal population most adult deaths occur in people over age 60.
"There's only one thing that explains that [pattern], and it's the HIV epidemic," said Achmat. Continued public awareness and debate on the causes of death are crucial in tackling South Africa's rising mortality rates, he said.
Business Day (Johannesburg)
06.22.2006; Tamar Khan