SA Medical Research Council Council finding that more people might be dying of Covid-19 than reported is ‘improbable’, says health official
SUGGESTIONS made by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) that there are more people dying of Covid-19 than reported have been rejected by the National Health Department.
The SAMRC releases weekly death statistics, and in its latest report it found some discrepancies between reported Covid-19 deaths and an “excess” of natural deaths, with the number of people dying of natural causes higher than expected based on historical data.
The research suggested that more people were dying of Covid-19 than reported, as the researchers recorded 17 000 more deaths from natural causes between May and July.
“We consider that the gap between the excess natural deaths and the confirmed Covid-19 deaths probably comprises people dying from Covid-19 before they get to the health care facility. This may be due to lack of transport, delays in transport and/or hospitals being unable to receive them, (as well as) people dying from Covid-19 but the death not being reported as such. This may be due to test results not being available at the time of death and/or challenges in the provincial Covid-19 reporting systems,” an information sheet on the report reads.
The researchers also suggested that people were dying from non-Covid-19 conditions because the health services had been reorientated towards Covid-19, for example, those who had not been diagnosed with TB and others with TB who had defaulted on treatment for fear of attending health care facilities.
Deputy director-general at the Department of Health, Dr Anban Pillay said the assumptions did not make sense, and he said there might be an error in the numbers.
“There must be an error in counting, like 10% or something,” Pillay said. “The numbers are not probable, because where are those people? (The numbers) can’t be so big. It’s improbable in our minds. We need to have a deeper discussion with them on how they are doing their modelling.”
Chief specialist scientist and co-author of the report, Professor Debbie Bradshaw said the timing and geographic pattern “leaves no room to question” whether this was associated with the Covid-19 epidemic.
“The weekly death reports have revealed a huge discrepancy between the country’s confirmed Covid-19 deaths and number of excess natural deaths,” she said.
The surveillance also highlighted a rapid decrease in unnatural deaths with the implementation of the hard lockdown and the return to usual numbers following the lifting of the hard lockdown and the restrictions on alcohol, with a sudden increase in the first week of June.
SAMRC president and chief executive Professor Glenda Gray said: “The SAMRC has been tracking mortality for decades in South Africa, and this system has identified excess deaths associated with the Covid-19 epidemic.
“These may be attributed to both Covid-19 deaths as well as non-Covid-19 due to other diseases such as TB, HIV and non-communicable diseases, as health services are reorientated to support this health crisis.”