Objective: To examine changes in mortality in rural South Africa over the period 1992-1995 by age, sex and cause of death.
Design: As with much of sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa lacks effective vital registration and information on mortality is lacking. The Agincourt demographic and health surveillance system was established to inform health policy and practice with regard to rural subdistrict populations.
Methods: Prospective community-based study involving annual update of a household census with enquiry into all birth, death and migration events. All reported deaths (n = 1001) are the subject of a verbal autopsy.
Results: An increasing trend in overall mortality relative to general population growth in the study area is apparent. There is evidence for a reversal in the previously declining trend in mortality among women 20-44 years. A comparison of 1992-1993 with 1994-1995 shows that most of the increase in mortality is concentrated in the younger adult (20-49 year) age group. AIDS and related diseases, particularly tuberculosis, appear primarily responsible. Injuries and violence (especially homicide) and circulatory disease are important, under-recognized causes of death, although their levels have remained constant over the period.
Conclusions: Mortality from AIDS and related diseases appears responsible for the probable reversal in mortality emerging in South Africa's rural northeast. Findings carry implications for the emerging system of decentralized health care.