Dying to make a fresh start mortality and health transition in a new South Africa

University dissertation from Umeå : Folkhälsa och klinisk medicin

Abstract: Rationale: Vital registration is lacking in developing settings where health and development problems are most pressing. Policy-makers confront an “information paradox”: the critical need for information on which to base priorities and monitor progress, and the profound shortage of such information.Aims: To better understand the dynamics of mortality transition in rural South Africa over a decade of profound socio-political change coupled with emerging HIV/AIDS. Thereby to inform health and development programming, policy formulation, and the research agenda; and contribute to debate on the nature of the ‘health transition’.Methods: The Agincourt health and demographic surveillance system is based on continuous monitoring of the Agincourt sub-district population in rural north-east South Africa. This involves annual recording of all vital events, specifically deaths, births and migrations in 11,700 households comprising some 70,000 persons. A “verbal autopsy” is conducted on every death, and special modules provide additional data.Key findings: A major health transition has occurred over the past decade, with marked changes in population structure and rapidly escalating mortality particularly among children and younger adults. A quadruple burden of disease is evident with persisting infectious disease and malnutrition in children, emerging non-communicable disease in the middle-aged and older, high levels of violence in an apparently peaceful community, and rapidly escalating HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. There is evidence of sex differences and socio-economic differentials in mortality; vulnerable sub-groups include the children of Mozambican immigrants and recently returned labour migrants.Implications: With respect to health transition, empirical data demonstrate a marked “counter transition” with mortality increasing in children and young adults; “epidemiologic polarization” is evident with the most vulnerable experiencing a higher mortality burden; and a “protracted transition” is reflected in the co-existence of persisting infectious disease and malnutrition, emerging HIV/AIDS, and increasing chronic non-communicable disease. With respect to health policy and practice there is urgent need to: strengthen HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care; offer effective long-term care to control the rising burden of chronic illness and related risk; maintain and improve maternal and child health services; and address differential access to care. This poses a substantial challenge to a severely stretched health system.