Weekly Deaths suggests higher numbers of COVID-19 deaths
Cape Town | The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) regularly publishes the Report on Weekly Deaths in South Africa, published every Wednesday by the SAMRC’s Burden of Disease Research Unit, these reports include 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 to those indicated by historical trends.
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 number of excess natural deaths,” said Bradshaw.
In order 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. Although done in some developed countries, South Africa is one of the few middle-income countries able to do this.
On lessons learnt in the context of COVID-19 in South Africa, Bradshaw says the weekly death reports have contributed important information to compliment other data on the unfolding of the epidemic. The report was able to confirm that no epidemics had occurred prior to the first COVID-19 cases identified by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NIICD) and the country’s first death announced by Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize in March. It was through these reports that the early growth of the epidemic in Cape Town and the Western Cape was confirmed, followed by the spread in Nelson Mandela Bay and the Eastern Cape.