THE Health Department's claim of a massive jump in deaths last year is unlikely, according to experts.

THE Health Department's claim of a massive jump in deaths last year is unlikely, according to experts.

Death statistics released by the Department of Health last week showing a jump of 182654 deaths in a single year are "implausible", according to the Medical Research Council (MRC), which usually supplies the government with mortality figures.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told a press briefing last week that in 2007 the total number of deaths from all causes was 573408, but by the end of 2008 this figure had jumped to 756062.

This increase in deaths in a single year is the equivalent of everyone in an area bigger than Randfontein (Gauteng) or all the citizens of George and Plettenberg Bay combined (Western Cape) dying in a single year in addition to the usual deaths.

But, it appears that the minister got his figures from the Department of Home Affairs. The MRC says it does not yet have the 2008 mortality figures and Statistics SA only released the 2007 mortality statistics two weeks ago.

The Stats SA death rate for 2007 was 601133 - almost 30000 more than the 2007 figures quoted by the minister.

In addition, Stats SA noted that there was a slight decline of 1,8percent in deaths between 2007 and 2006, when 612462 people died. Some interpreted this as a modest indication that the government's antiretroviral treatment programme was working.

So the minister's report last week of the massive jump in deaths - which he attributed to Aids - caused disbelief among statisticians and researchers who track the mortality rate.

The MRC's Debbie Bradshaw has written to acting director-general of health, Kammy Chetty to express her concern about the figure.

Health Department spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said officials were looking into the figure and "we will correct it if necessary in due course".

What is not in dispute, however, is the fact that the death rate in South Africa has more than doubled in the past decade, with the greatest increases occurring in adult women in their late 20's and early 30's and men in their late 30's - a clear indication of the impact of Aids. - Health-e News