South Africa has recorded an excess of more than 125 000 natural deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
The report, which was released on Thursday, noted that since 3 May 2020, the cumulative number of excess deaths from natural causes had reached more that 125 00 by 23 January 2021.
The SAMRC report on weekly deaths in South Africa uses information about both natural (diseases and other medical conditions), and unnatural deaths (injuries) registered on the national population register.
“In the context of the emerging Covid-19 pandemic, it has become essential to track the weekly number of deaths that occur. Deaths recorded on the National Population Register are provided to the SAMRC on a weekly basis.
“These have been scaled up to estimate the actual number of deaths by accounting for the people who are not on the population register and the under-registration of deaths,” it said in the report.
The SAMRC characterised the increases during December 2020 and January 2021 as relentless but noted an apparent decline in the increase in the most recent week.
“While we are cautiously optimistic that the decrease in week three represents a real change and indicates the turning of in excess mortality in the current wave of the pandemic, the trend will become clearer with the data for week four to be released by the SAMRC on 3 February 2021,” said Professor Debbie Bradshaw, the chief specialist scientist at the SAMRC and a co-author of the report.
Bradshaw added at this point there was no way of telling whether the deaths were directly associated with Covid-19 or an overburdened healthcare system.
“Unfortunately, it will probably be some years before we have the information about the medical cause of death and so we cannot distinguish between deaths directly associated with Covid-19 and those that may have resulted due to the health system being overburdened,” she said.
SAMRC president and CEO Professor Glenda Gray said they would be working with the national Department of Health and National Institute for Communicable Diseases to help improve reporting on the number of Covid-19 deaths.
“The SAMRC has been tracking mortality for decades, and this system has enabled South Africa to be one of the few middle-income countries able to track excess deaths associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The team is collaborating with the Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases to set up a data linkage project to improve the reports of the numbers of confirmed Covid-19 deaths for the country,” added Gray.