Nevin Manimala Statistics

Further evidence of misclassification of the injury deaths in South Africa: When will the barriers to accurate injury death statistics be removed?

S Afr Med J. 2023 Sep 4;113(9):30-35. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2023.v113i9.836.


BACKGROUND: Contrary to the World Health Organization’s internationally recommended medical certificate of cause of death, the South African (SA) death notification form (DNF) does not allow for the reporting of the manner of death to permit accurate coding of external causes of injury deaths.

OBJECTIVES: To describe the injury cause-of-death profile from forensic pathology records collected for the National Cause-of-Death Validation (NCoDV) Project and compare it with profiles from other sources of injury mortality data. In particular, the recording of firearm use in homicides is compared between sources.

METHODS: The NCoDV Project was a cross-sectional study of deaths that occurred during a fixed period in 2017 and 2018, from a nationally representative sample of 27 health subdistricts in SA. Trained fieldworkers scanned forensic records for all deaths investigated at the forensic mortuaries serving the sampled subdistricts during the study period. Forensic practitioners reviewed the records and completed a medical certificate of cause of death for each decedent. Causes of death were coded to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, 10th revision (ICD-10), using Iris automated coding software. Cause-specific mortality fractions for injury deaths were compared with Injury Mortality Survey 2017 (IMS 2017) and Statistics South Africa 2017 (Stats SA 2017) datasets. The cause profile for all firearm-related deaths was compared between the three datasets.

RESULTS: A total of 5 315 records were available for analysis. Males accounted for 77.6% of cases, and most decedents were aged between 25 and 44 years. Homicide was the leading cause of death (34.7%), followed by transport injuries (32.6%) and suicide (14.7%). This injury cause profile was similar to IMS 2017 but differed markedly from the official statistics, which showed markedly lower proportions of these three causes (15.0%, 11.6% and 0.7%, respectively), and a much higher proportion of other unintentional causes. Investigation of firearm-related deaths revealed that most were homicides in NCoDV 2017/18 (88.5%) and IMS 2017 (93.1%), while in the Stats SA 2017 data, 98.7% of firearm deaths were classified as accidental. Approximately 7% of firearm-related deaths were suicides in NCoDV 2017/18 and IMS 2017, with only 0.3% in Stats SA 2017.

CONCLUSION: The official cause-of-death data for injuries in SA in 2017 differed substantially from findings from the NCoDV 2017/18 study and IMS 2017. Accurate data sources would ensure that public health interventions are designed to reduce the high injury burden. Inclusion of the manner of death on the DNF, as is recommended internationally, is critically important to enable more accurate, reliable and valid reporting of the injury profile.

PMID:37882130 | DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2023.v113i9.836

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