New data suggests higher Covid-19 deaths in South Africa

New data published by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) suggests a higher number of Covid-19 related deaths in the country.

The data published on Wednesday (22 July) by the SAMRC’s Burden of Disease Research Unit, includes information on both natural (age, disease, infection) and unnatural deaths registered on the national population register.

In the past weeks, the numbers have shown a relentless increase – by the second week of July, there were 59% more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected based on historical data.

It also means that reported deaths have shown a pattern that is completely different from those indicated by historical trends.

Between 6 May and 14 July, excess deaths from natural causes were 17,090 for persons one year and older.

For people between the ages of one and 59, the excess number of deaths is 5,889 and 11,175 for people 60 and older.

Excess deaths are the difference between expected deaths and actual reported deaths.



Weekly deaths : Excess deaths

The data comes as South Africa recorded 572 new Covid-19 related deaths over a 24-hour period (394,948 confirmed coronavirus cases), which is more than double the previous high of 215 deaths recorded a week ago.

South Africa is in the top five countries in the world when it comes to the number of Covid-19 infections, but lags these countries for casualties relating to the virus.

The US leads for virus infection with more than 4.1 million cases, and around 146,000 deaths to date.

Brazil (2.2 million) and India (1.2 million) are second and third, with around 83,000 and 30,000 casualties. Russia is fourth, with 789,000 cases and a reported 17,750 deaths to date.

Peru is sixth (366,000), with 17,500 deaths, while Mexico in seventh, has 362,000 cases, and more than 41,000 reported deaths.

According to prof Debbie Bradshaw, chief specialist scientist and a co-author of the report, the timing and geographic pattern leaves no room to question whether this is associated with the Covid-19 epidemic.

“However, the weekly death reports have revealed a huge discrepancy between the country’s confirmed Covid-19 deaths and the number of excess natural deaths,” said Bradshaw.

To provide close to real-time insight into changes in mortality, the Burden of Disease Research Unit collaborates with UCT’s Centre for Actuarial Research (CARe) to analyse the numbers of deaths registered by the Department of Home Affairs on the National Population Register, while providing weekly reports of the number of deaths in South Africa.

To quantify the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on South African deaths, it was decided to focus on deaths from natural causes and remove the impact of changes in the unnatural deaths, the SAMRC said.

The team also thought it would be necessary to consider that the lockdown had reduced the number of natural deaths. Thus, a baseline was chosen that was consistent with the level that the number of natural deaths was tracking prior to the uptick in the trend.

Read: The big challenge with South Africa’s coronavirus vaccine trial

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New data suggests higher Covid-19 deaths in South Africa