Leading Causes Of Death In South Africa

HIV/AIDS killed 202,100 South Africans in 2012, making the virus the number one killer in the country.

Health in South Africa

South Africa has a population size of approximately 53 million. As of 2013, 30% of the population is under 15 years old, and only 9% is over 60. The majority of inhabitants, 64%, live in urban areas. Birth registrations are high for the area and reach approximately 85%. The life expectancy at birth is only 59 years of age. The leading causes of death in this country are discussed below.

Leading Causes of Death


The number 1 killer in South Africa is HIV/AIDS. This disease is responsible for 33.2% of all deaths each year, claiming the lives of 202,100 people. People can contract this virus by having unprotected sex or sharing needles with an infected person. Medical professionals can also spread the disease via infected blood transfusions. Additionally, an infected, pregnant mother could pass it along to her child. South Africa has the largest population of HIV/AIDS carriers in the world, and only 48% of them are taking antiretroviral medications. Those individuals living in rural areas are more likely to carry the virus undetected for longer periods of time leading to complications and eventual death. The government has been investing in more public outreach efforts like education programs, testing initiatives, and condom distribution which have helped to lower infection rates in adolescents.


Stroke is responsible for 39,500 deaths annually in the country. This number represents 6.5% of total deaths in the country. Stroke is most likely related to the prevalence of high blood pressure (hypertension) in South Africa where over 50% of the population is affected. High blood pressure occurs at a high rate in people of African descent. Other risk factors are prominent in the population as well, including tobacco smoking, diabetes, and dyslipidemia.


Diabetes, one of the factors that can lead to stroke, is the third leading cause of death in the country. It is responsible for 5.7% of all deaths yearly, a number that represents the loss of 34,900 lives. South Africa has the highest prevalence of diabetes among all African countries, a fact that can be contributed to the wide availability of western foods, particularly in urban areas, which are high in processed sugars and carbohydrates. People can also develop diabetes due to lack of exercise or genetic and family history. This diagnosis is found more often in adults between 35 and 65 years of age and exceeds global averages.

Other leading causes of death include ischaemic heart disease (4.8%), lower respiratory infection (4.2%), tuberculosis (3.8%), hypertensive heart disease (2.7%), interpersonal violence (2.4%), diarrheal diseases (2.1%), and road injury (2%).

Access to Health Care Facilities

South Africans have low access to health care facilities, particularly those individuals living in rural areas. Primary health care, which would teach and focus on prevention of the earlier mentioned diseases, is provided by the government and free to residents. However, the services available are sub-par, underfunded, and outdated due to financial constraints in the public sector. The number of doctors available is insufficient to treat the large number of patients arriving at the hospitals, and many are attended to by nurses or midwives. Private hospitals do exist, and their quality of care is at higher standards, but they are inaccessible by the majority of individuals due to their high cost and urban-centered locations. People living in rural areas face the greatest barriers to receiving healthcare and even when a medical post is staffed, it could still be hours away from the population. The government has handled this problem by publishing a health care reform plan that will provide health insurance to all South Africans and promises to invest more funds in the public health sector.

Leading Causes Of Death In South Africa

RankCause Of Death% Of Total Number Of Deaths, 2012Number Of Deaths (in thousands)
3Diabetes melitus5.7%34.9
4Ischaemic heart disease 4.8%29.4
5Lower respiratory infections 4.2%25.6
7Hypertensive heart disease 2.7%16.6
8Interpersonal violence 2.4%14.8
9Diarrhoea diseases2.1%12.9
10Road injury2%11.9

More in Society