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AIDS a Leading Cause of Death in S. Africa
  By ALEXANDRA ZAVISThe Associated Press
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - The number of deaths in South Africa increased by 57 percent in the five years ending in 2003, with AIDS and related illnesses among the leading causes in adults, the state statistical service reported Friday.
AIDS was the fifth most common natural cause of death reported in South Africans aged 15-49 in 2001, the last year for which detailed figures were included in the report. The AIDS virus accounted for more than 7,500 - or 3.8 percent - of deaths recorded in that age group.
The figures are far lower than those commonly cited by the United Nations and World Health Organization, which say at least 600 South Africans of all ages die every day of AIDS-related causes.
Government officials acknowledged many AIDS deaths could have been attributed to associated illnesses like tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia because of the stigma still associated with AIDS and the HIV virus.
TB, influenza and pneumonia accounted for 28.3 percent of deaths in 15 to 49-year-olds in 2001. Together with cerebrovascular disease, they also emerged as the leading causes of death overall.
The number of deaths associated with lifestyle diseases, including heart diseases and diabetes, was also on the rise, the report said. Malnutrition rated among the top 10 causes of death among children under 4.
The data was collected from more than 3 million death notification forms submitted to the Department of Home Affairs between 1997 and 2003.
The number of reported deaths rose from 318,287 in 1998 to 499,268 in 2002. Only percentage increases were given for 2003.
The steady increase in reported deaths was partly associated with population growth and improved notification, said statistician-general Pali Lehohla.
But he said the data ``provide indirect evidence that the HIV epidemic in South Africa is raising the mortality levels of prime-aged adults in that associated diseases are on the increase.''
More than 5 million of South Africa's 45 million people are infected with HIV, more than in any other country, according to U.N. figures.
President Thabo Mbeki's government has been criticized for its sluggish response to the crisis. Until last year, it refused to provide life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs through the public health system, citing cost and safety concerns.
02/18/05 16:29 EST
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