Elderly residents  greeting each other in Khayelitsha while queuing outside Shoprite. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
Elderly residents greeting each other in Khayelitsha while queuing outside Shoprite. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

SA and world's mortality rate under expert scrutiny amid Covid-19 outbreak

By Marvin Charles Time of article published Mar 31, 2020

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Cape Town - Medical experts are closely monitoring the potential impact the Covid-19 coronavirus could have on human mortality, both here and in the rest of the world.

The vice-president for Research at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Professor Jeffrey Mphahlele, said: “We have already seen mortality of South Africans related to Covid-19 infection. The infection will definitely increase the number of deaths, especially in those at high risk of Covid-19 such as the elderly, people with underlying respiratory and other chronic disorders. Persons with underlying HIV and TB co-morbidities are expected to be the hardest hit by Covid-19.”

The elderly were at greater risk of contracting the virus, he said.

“According to Stats SA’s 2019 Mid-Year Population Estimate, around 9% of the 58 million people living in South Africa are elderly (ie over 60 years of age). No doubt that the elderly and the other groups at high risk will be the hardest hit. Unfortunately, we can’t predict (and the world can’t) the number of deaths that will be sustained as a result of infection,” he said.

South Africa has so far recorded its third Covid-19 death. Current stats for infections have reached 1326.

The densely over-populated informal settlement Khayelitsha has recorded its first case of the virus.

Globally, there have been 739 367 reported cases, with 35 016 deaths. Some 156 402 people have recovered, but 547 949 cases remain active, with 28 434 in serious or critical condition. Italy has recorded over 10000 deaths, China 3000 and Spain 7000 deaths.

According to Stats SA’s mortality report of 2017 the age groups 60-64 and 65-69 had the highest proportion of deaths in 2017 both at 8.1%, followed by the age group 55-59 at 7.5%. The lowest deaths were observed in the age groups 5-9 and 10-14 years with both at 0.6 % in 2017.

Head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics division UCT, Maia Lesosky, said: “Currently the proportion of deaths attributed to confirmed Covid-19 cases in other countries ranges from <1% to almost 10%.

“These are massive differences, and we don’t really understand what is driving this variability. It seems highly likely that at least some of this variability is heavily influenced by how deaths are being attributed to Covid-19 in different countries, and how testing is being applied.

“There are reasons that the mortality rate in SA could be higher, such as our high background levels of HIV and TB, and there are reasons why the mortality rate in SA could be lower, like our relatively young population. Frankly, it is just not possible to foresee at this point: we are missing critical information we would need to make accurate projections.”

Director of Research at the University of the Western Cape Burtram Fielding said: "Since we have no idea as to how many are actually infected (we only know how many tested positive), I speculate that the 'real' mortality rate will probably be much lower in the end. 

"It would be very interesting to see how many of our population seroconverted (were infected with the virus, developed antibodies and recovered) at the end of the outbreak; that would provide us with the actual number of who were infected with this virus. So, I do not think that Covid-19 would impact on our mortality rate in a big way. I think we will probably see a mortality rate closer to what we typically see for influenza every year."

@MarvinCharles17

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Cape Argus

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