What is the biggest killer in South Africa?

Statistics South Africa has released a report on the top 10 leading causes of death in South Africa, based on all death notification forms maintained by the Department of Home Affairs.

The data covered all reported deaths logged in 2016, but also tracks data on deaths occurring during the period 1997 to 2015 to show trends in mortality in South Africa.

The results on mortality levels and trends indicate that mortality has continued to decline in the country.

The general trend of registered deaths processed by Stats SA indicated an increase in death occurrences from 1997 to 2006 – when the number of deaths peaked to 614,248 – and a decrease thereafter.

In 2016, a total of 456,612 deaths occurred, marking a decline of 3.5% from the 473,266 death occurrences for 2015 that have been updated for late registration.

Overall, mortality now occurs at older ages for both men and women in the country, which is an indication of decline in premature mortality, Stats SA said.

In 2016, male deaths peaked at age group 60-64 years (8.6%), while female deaths peaked at a much older age group (75−79 years  – 8.3%). Largely, there were more male deaths observed, and the sex ratio at death was 112 male deaths per 100 female deaths, the stats group said.

Causes of death

Overall, the cause of death in South Africa is largely due to what is categorised as natural causes, which account for 88.8% of all deaths that took place in 2016. The other 11.2% of deaths were non-natural causes.

For the first time since 1997, diseases of the circulatory system were the top ranking underlying main group of natural causes of death.

Generally, non-communicable diseases accounted for 57.4% of deaths in 2016 while communicable diseases were responsible for 31.3% of deaths in 2016, Stats SA said.

Tuberculosis maintained its rank as the leading cause of death in South Africa, albeit with declining proportions, while diabetes accounted for 5.5% – up marginally from previous data. These two big killers were followed by other forms of heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases, which both ranked third place at 5.1% each.

HIV moved up from the sixth position in 2014 and remained as the fifth biggest killer for both 2015 and 2016 deaths.

Cause of deathRankNumberPercentage
Tuberculosis129 5136.5%
Diabetes mellitus225 2555.5%
Other forms of heart disease323 5155.1%
Cerebrovascular disease423 1375.1%
Human immunodeficiency virus521 8304.8%
Hypertensive disease619 9604.4%
Influenza and pneumonia719 6384.3%
Other viral diseases816 5773.6%
Ischaemic heart disease912 8832.8%
Chronic lower respiratory disease1012 6592.8%
Other natural causes200 40343.9%
Non-natural causes51 24211.2%
All causes456 612100.0%

Non-natural causes

When it comes to non-natural causes of death, accidental injury is the biggest killer in this category, accounting for 66.5% of deaths. This is followed by assault (14.8%) and transport accidents (12.5%).

The ‘other’ category which accounts for the most causes of non-natural deaths here covers quite a broad range of incidents, ranging from falling, and coming into contact with venomous creatures, to things like being a victim of a natural disaster.

Cause of deathNumberPercentage of non-natural causesPercentage of all causes
Other external causes of accidental injury34 09666.5%7.5%
Assault7 56814.8%1.7%
Transport accidents6 42512.5%1.4%
Event of undetermined intent1 6403.2%0.4%
Complications of medical or surgical care1 0012.0%0.2%
Intentional self-harm4250.8%0.1%
Sequelae of external causes of morbidity and mortality860.2%0.0%
Legal intervention and operations of war10.0%0.0%
Total51 242100.0%11.2%