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After drastic drop SA life expectancy rises

While South African life expectancy dropped between 1990 and 2013, the are signs of hope again.

The average life expectancy for South African men decreased from 60.5 years in 1990 to 57.7 years in 2013, according to a study published in the medial journal The Lancet on Thursday. 

The University of Washington study, which analysed trend data from 188 countries, also found that South African women’s average life expectancy fell from 68.9 years in 1990 to 63 years in 2013. 

South Africa was one of only 11 countries that saw a decline in average life expectancy. 

According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), the country’s life expectancy is however on the increase again, after a significant drop to 52 years in 2005. Stats SA’s mid-year population estimates puts the 2014 life expectancy at 59.1 years for men and 63.1 years for women.  

“The rise in life expectancy can be attributed to two important trends: first, the number of Aids-related deaths is estimated to have decreased from 363 910 deaths in 2005 (51% of all deaths) to 171 733 deaths in 2014 (31% of all deaths). This can be associated with the increased roll-out of antiretroviral therapy (ART),” the report says. 

“Second, the infant mortality rate (IMR) has fallen from an estimated 58 infant deaths per 1 000 live births in 2002 to 34 infant deaths per 1 000 live births in 2014. The decline in IMR points to an improvement in the general health and living standards of the population.”

Malnutrition and diseases

According to the Washington University report, fewer South Africans are dying today from malnutrition and diarrhoeal diseases: mortality from malnutrition dropped from 61% between 1990 and 2013. 

But, at the same time road injuries and suicide today claim far more lives in South Africa than in 1990, with deaths for both causes increasing more than 200%. 

The leading killers in South Africa for 2013 was HIV disease, followed by strokes and pneumonia – together, these conditions accounted for 51% of all deaths in 2013. 

Stats SA’s Mortality and Causes of death 2013 report, which was released earlier this month, recorded slightly different findings with tuberculosis stated as the top killer, followed by influenza and HIV disease.

The Washington University report also revealed how some diseases and injuries cause different mortality patterns for males and females. For example, in South Africa, tuberculosis took a greater toll on men, killing 13 138 males and 6 779 females in 2013. By contrast, strokes claimed almost double the amount of women than men in 2013: 22 316 females and 12 479 males. 

High blood sugar, or diabetes, was the fifth most common cause of death in South Africa in 2013, found the report. Stats SA also found that diabetes is on an “alarming increase” as a cause of death, with 4.8% of all deaths in 2013 caused by it.  

Research shows South Africa has one of the fastest-growing diabetes epidemics in the world, with obesity at its root. A 2012 Lancet study revealed South Africans are the fattest nation in Africa: 70% of women and 40% of men have much more body fat than is healthy.

Mia Malan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa. She has worked in newsrooms in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Washington, DC, winning more than 30 awards for her radio, print and television work.