[imagesource: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe]
Perhaps the only thing we know for certain about COVID-19, is that we don’t really know everything yet.
The number of excess deaths that have occurred in South Africa during the pandemic has been discussed before, as well as the other, mitigating factors that could have caused them, aside from COVID-19.
According to the latest data, released on Wednesday, by the South African Medical Research Council’s (SAMRC) Burden of Disease Research Unit, it appears as though parts of the country have reached a peak in terms of infections.
In addition, excess deaths – defined as “natural deaths that have occurred over and above what would be expected based on historical patterns” – also decreased based on the latest data, taken between the last week of July to the first week of August.
There have now been 33 478 excess deaths recorded between the beginning of May and the first week of August, and to unpack the complexities of what that means, Spotlight spoke with Professor Debbie Bradshaw, chief specialist scientist at the SAMRC’s Burden of Disease Research Unit:
[She says] that they do not yet know the medical causes of these deaths – or if they are related directly or indirectly to Covid-19.
Part of the problem is simply that information has not yet been captured.
When a person dies, a doctor must complete a death notification form showing the medical cause of death. Legally, if a doctor cannot confirm the cause of death, a post-mortem must be done (or can be requested by the family).
Post-mortems are labour intensive, and the system is already overburdened, so the causes for many deaths remain unconfirmed.
At the same time, using the time trend, as well as the age patterns of these excess deaths, the data “indicates that a high proportion of them are likely to be due to COVID-19”.
Landon Myer, director and head of the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town, says that the excess death count is tough to attribute to a single factor:
“I might die of some other cause that was going to kill me regardless, but I happened to have SARS-CoV-2 at the time, and I might be classified as a Covid-19 death,” explains Myer.
“Conversely, I might die of something where SARS-CoV-2 itself was not the underlying cause, but instead part of the cause was the response to Covid-19 indirectly. [For example] you have limited access to primary healthcare services or economic hardship.”
However, the rapid increase in excess deaths, from the moment COVID-19 was known to be widespread, points to it being a major factor.
It’s worth reading the full Spotlight article here, to better understand exactly what to make of the data that these medical experts have available to them.
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