Aids deaths in South Africa `three times higher than official figures'

THE NUMBER of people dying of Aids in South Africa is more than three times higher than government figures suggest, the country's medical research council said.

Many people who died from HIV/Aids were recorded as having died of related illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, the council said. The stigma still attached to the disease had helped keep figures artificially low.

In research published in the journal Aids, the article's authors estimate that more than 112,000 people died of HIV-related illnesses in 2000-01, almost three times the number given by South Africa's department of home affairs.

The article adds that about 74 per cent of children under five who died in the same year died of HIV/Aids-related illnesses, rather than the 25 per cent that government figures suggest.

Dr Debbie Bradshaw, a co-author of the report, said: "A large proportion of deaths due to HIV infection are misclassified [on death certificates] as the opportunistic infections that are the immediate cause of death."

She added that many doctors were reluctant to certify deaths as due to HIV because the family may then struggle to claim life insurance or funeral policies. The bereaved also did not want to have to deal with the social stigma of the disease.

The findings add fuel to a continuing battle between medical workers and government officials, who are often reluctant to reveal the true extent to which HIV/Aids has hit the country.

In 2002, a survey by the government agency Statistics South Africa showed that only 8.7 per cent of deaths in the country were caused by HIV/Aids, but medical researchers and Aids charities insisted at the time that it had downplayed the scale of the pandemic.

The medical research council warned that the agency's latest survey, to be released this week, will again underestimate the number of Aids deaths in the country. Statistics South Africa was to have published its report on 12 January, but many believe it has been delayed because of political considerations.

President Thabo Mbeki has come under fire in the past for downplaying the problem of Aids; for years he questioned the link between HIV and Aids and delayed implementing Aids-prevention programmes. Much to the fury of health workers, the government had in the past warned that Aids drugs were unsafe, and had refused to provide antiretrovirals to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.

President Mbeki has now softened his stance on Aids, but in the meantime South Africa is believed to have developed one of the highest rates of HIV/Aids in the world. Detractors say President Mbeki's attitude towards Aids is far less realistic than that of his predecessor, Nelson Mandela, who announced three weeks ago that his last surviving son had died of the disease.

The lobby group Treatment Action Campaign said the research council study showed that South Africa had fallen behind the rest of the world. "Given the political climate and the resultant disincentives for reporting HIV/Aids in the South African setting, it is probably not surprising that the level of reporting of HIV or Aids as a cause of death is low," the group said. "This is in stark contrast to Brazil where a policy of universal access to free treatment was implemented early in the epidemic and the level of reporting on HIV on death certificates is over 85 per cent."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent