Four reasons for SA’s low life expectancy

File photo: Supplied

File photo: Supplied

Published Dec 22, 2014


Cape Town - Four health scourges have descended on South Africa, making it one of the only countries in the world where life expectancy has dropped in two decades.

A cause of death study published in The Lancet journal on Thursday revealed that South Africa is one of 11 countries worldwide where life expectancy fell between 1990 and last year.

In this period life expectancy for men fell from 60.5 to 57.7 years, and women from 68.9 to 63.

These figures stand in contrast to the global average of people living 6.2 years longer than in 1990. Life expectancy is now an average of just under 72 years globally.

But according to Dr Bongani Mayosi, professor of medicine at UCT, this is actually good news.

“The life expectancy of South Africans fell by almost 20 years between 1990 and 2005,” Mayosi explained. “From 2005 to now, there’s actually been an increase by one year every year.

“Why did South Africa suffer such a reversal of fortunes? The reason is because of what we call the quadruple burden of disease.”

First, there was an epidemic of infectious diseases, with HIV/Aids and tuberculosis leading the way.

Second, perinatal and maternal conditions resulted in death occurring around childbirth, taking the lives of children and mothers.

Third, injury and violence caused death at an “epidemic proportion”. And fourth, there were non-communicable diseases such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease and cancer.

Out of the 188 countries examined, South Africa ranked 162nd for women’s life expectancy and 169th for men last year.

The full study is available from

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Cape Argus

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