The malignant epidemic--changing patterns of trauma

S Afr Med J. 2002 Oct;92(10):798-802.


Objectives and setting: The worldwide burden of trauma is increasing, but is unequally distributed between nations. Trauma in South Africa targets the young and productive in society and imposes a major burden on the health infrastructure. We undertook a review of injury trends among patients attending the Johannesburg Hospital Trauma Unit (JHTU) and the Johannesburg Medicolegal Laboratory (JMLL) in order to document the evolution in patterns of trauma over a 17-year period of great social and political change.

Design, subjects and outcome measures: This was a retrospective review of all priority-one patients attending the JHTU from January 1985 to December 2001. The JHTU trauma database was used to retrieve information on patient demographics, wound mechanism and injury severity. The database at the JMLL, maintained since 1996, was examined and the manner and place of death were analysed.

Results: The JHTU has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of trauma patients over the last 17 years. The patients' demographic profiles have altered and injury is now predominantly due to interpersonal violence. Unnatural deaths examined at the JMLL have declined by 19% since 1996; however, the proportion of those deaths due to gunshot wounds has risen.

Conclusions: The social and political changes in South Africa in recent years have led to changes in the injury profiles seen at the JHTU. Part of the increase can be explained by desegregation and a reduction in the provision of local hospital services; however, the impact of urbanisation within South Africa, cross-border migration and the high incidence of substance abuse are recognised. Evidence supports the implementation of legislative, environmental, social and behavioural interventions to contain and reduce the incidence and impact of violence and injury. Concerted efforts must be made at all levels to curb South Africa's trauma epidemic.

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Cause of Death
  • Cost of Illness
  • Hospitalization / economics
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitalization / trends
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Politics
  • Population Surveillance
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Change
  • South Africa
  • Survival Analysis
  • Survival Rate
  • Trauma Centers
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • Wounds and Injuries / economics
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology