- South Africa's governmental statistics agency has presented depressing numbers on the population's life expectancy. In only seven years, the death rate for young and middle-aged South African has doubled, in some cases even tripled. Life expectancy at birth declined by 4 to 5 years over the last decade. The growing numbers of deaths from AIDS are blamed.
Today, Statistics South Africa released its adult mortality report, which maps the death rate and reasons for deaths among South African during the period 1997 to 2004. During this seven-year period, the effects of early HIV infections lead to an ever-growing number of deaths contributed to AIDS, the report reveals.
The report concludes that death rates rose between 1997 and 2004 for every five-year age group for each sex, except for males aged 15-19. Some of the increases in death rates were "very large", as the agency put it: The death rates more than tripled for females aged 20-39 and more than doubled for males aged 30-44.
For the youngest and the oldest South Africans, increases in death rates were smaller, though. For each sex, for those age 15-19 and 55-64, death rates between 1997 and 2004 increased by 20 percent or less, the state agency said.
For young and middle-aged South African women, the mortality trend has been especially dramatic. Normally, death rates are low for young persons, while they slowly increase to higher level at older age groups. In South Africa of 2004, however, a woman of aged 30-34 has the same statistical chance of dying as a woman aged 60-64. In 1997, chances stood at one fourth. Also, the age group 25-29 has now a higher mortality rate than women aged 55-59.
While many registered deaths had been attributed to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the statistical analysis indicates that AIDS is the main factor behind South Africa's very large increase in mortality. "HIV death rates have a distinctive pattern by age in which there is an increase to a given age and then a rapid decline at older ages. This peak occurs at 30 - 34 for females and at 35 - 39 for males," the state agency report said. "It is clear that many HIV deaths are registered as being because of some other cause of death," it added.
The report by Statistics South Africa ends its analysis in 2004. Graphics describing the growth of mortality rates - especially among middle-aged women - however indicate that growth is only accelerating. Comparing this trend with estimates over HIV infections in South Africa, the outlook is frightening.
In South Africa, it is estimated that it on average takes ten years from HIV infection to death by AIDS. At least until around 2000-2003, the number of HIV infections is believed to have accelerated. At the same time, however, government has slowly started to hand out life-saving antiretrovirals - anti-AIDS drugs.
By now, the state agency estimates, around 5.5 million South Africans are infected with HIV. This includes around 30 percent of the country's pregnant women. Between 500,000 and 800,000 are living with AIDS, but less than 200,000 of these are given antiretrovirals.
The effect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on South Africa's demography is now beginning to be fully noted. While the population continues to be growing due to high birth number and immigration, life expectancy has already fallen sharply. "South Africa is a member of a select but undesirable group of countries in which life expectancy at birth declined by 4 years or more between 1990 and 2001," the report noted. These countries include other AIDS-affected neighbours and some ex-Soviet Union states.
On the positive side, some death factors had diminished in importance during the seven years studied. Malaria deaths had declined from 1999 and onwards. Also the number of homicides had declined since the late 1990s, although numbers remained very high in an international comparison, second only to Colombia.
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