News / South Africa

Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
1 minute read
30 Sep 2021
8:11 am

Pandemic death stats ‘inaccurate’, says expert

Brian Sokutu

Covid deaths were closer to 250 000, based on SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) excess mortality numbers.

Mortuary assistant Doreen Mashaba prepares a coffin, 6 July 2021, at Collinge and Co Funeral Directors in Fourways. The funeral industry is overwhelmed with the number of deaths in Gauteng due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Michel Bega/The Citizen

Contrary to what appeared to be a surge in Covid-related death figures, a top South African scientist on Wednesday maintained that the mortality numbers were declining.

The department of health on Tuesday reported that the country reached 87 417 deaths – an increase of 5 950, compared to the 81 461 statistic of 28 August.

Challenging its statistics as constituting “gross under-reporting”, professor Shabir Madhi, executive director of the vaccines and infectious diseases analytics research unit at Wits University, said the actual Covid deaths were closer to 250 000, based on SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) excess mortality numbers.

“The under-reporting by the department is due to multiple factors. The death rate is now declining across all provinces,” claimed Madhi.

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He said the high death rate during the country’s third wave was due to “a more transmissible virus, resulting in higher numbers of infections in a population that was largely unvaccinated”.

With the South African death rate from Covid likely to be 420 per 100 000, Madhi said the numbers placed SA among the top 10 worst-affected countries.

Responding to Madhi’s comment, department of health national spokesperson Popo Maja said it was “a well-known debate that the SAMRC reports on excess deaths, with the department reporting on notified deaths”.

“We only publish deaths, which have been verified by provinces – explaining why we are sometimes reporting historical deaths.”

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has conceded that Covid mortality reporting “has its limitations”.