Leading causes of death in South Africa

New data compiled by Statistics South Africa indicates that mortality continues to decline in South Africa, while tuberculosis remains the official number one cause of death in the country.

According to Stats SA, this trend has been observed since 2007. A total of 505,803 deaths occurred in 2011, which was a decline of 7.7% from the 547,724 deaths that occurred in 2010. The median age at death was 50.4 years.

The stats are based on all death notification forms received from the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

The proportion of deaths was slightly higher for males (51.7%) compared to females (48.3%) and on average, males died earlier (49.0 years) than females (52.5 years).

Age and sex differentials show that male deaths peaked at age group 35–39 and female deaths at age group 30–34.

Less than half (46.3%) of all deaths occurred at healthcare facilities, StatsSA said.

The provinces where the highest proportion of deaths occurred were KwaZulu-Natal (20.7%), Gauteng (19.9%) and Eastern Cape (14.4%). These provinces also have the largest population sizes in the country.

Leading causes of death

In 2011, the majority of deaths resulted from the main group of certain infectious and parasitic diseases (23.1%), followed by diseases of the circulatory system (16.2%).

“This pattern was also observed in 2010, although the proportion of deaths due to infectious and parasitic diseases decreased between 2010 and 2011, but increased for deaths due to diseases of the circulatory system during the same period,” the stats office said.

Tuberculosis maintained its rank as the first leading cause of death in South Africa, a position that it has held since 1997. However, the proportion of deaths due to tuberculosis has decreased in the recent past, contributing 10.7% of deaths in 2011.

The second leading cause of death was influenza and pneumonia (6.6%), which has also maintained its rank as the second leading cause of death.

Two major changes were observed in the ranks of the ten leading causes of death in 2011.

Intestinal infectious diseases were the third leading cause of death in 2009 and 2010 but moved to sixth in 2011.  Conversely, cerebrovascular diseases were ranked fifth in both 2009 and 2010 but moved to the third position in 2011.

With regards to sex differentials, tuberculosis and influenza and pneumonia were both ranked first and second, respectively, amongst the ten leading causes of death for both males and females.

However, the third leading underlying cause of death for females was cerebrovascular diseases while other forms of heart disease was ranked third for males.

Age differentials show that intestinal infectious diseases were ranked the first leading cause of death amongst those aged 0–14 years; tuberculosis was most common among ages 15–64 years; whilst for those aged 65 years and older, cerebrovascular diseases were the leading cause of death.

Although the number of deaths due to natural causes were higher than the number of deaths due to non-natural causes, the proportion of deaths due to non-natural cause have been on a slight increase in the recent years, StatsSA said.

It noted that in 2009, 8.9% of deaths were due to non-natural causes, increasing to 9.1% in 2011.

Deaths due to non-natural causes were mainly dominated by those due to other external causes of accidental injury (61%) followed by events of undetermined intent (136%).

The ages that were mostly affected by non-natural causes were 5–29 years, with more males dying of non-natural causes than females.

The Western Cape had the highest proportion of deaths due to non-natural causes compared to other provinces.

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Leading causes of death in South Africa