Key findings: P0309.3 - Mortality and causes of death in South Africa: Findings from death notification, 2017

This report provides information on levels, trends and patterns in mortality and cause-of-death statistics by socio-demographic and geographic characteristics. The mortality indicators and cause of death indicators presented in this report are critical indicators on the health status of the South African population. The main focus is on 2017 death occurrences, however, information on deaths that occurred during the period 1997 to 2016 is included in order to show trends in mortality. The cause-of-death statistics in this statistical release provide information on the leading underlying natural causes of death, patterns and trends in non-natural underlying causes of deaths, as well as comparison between immediate, contributing and underlying causes of death.


The results showed that the total number of deaths registered at the Department of Home Affairs and processed by Stats SA in 2017 were 446 554, which indicates a 5,1% decrease from the 470 396 deaths that occurred in 2016. Overall, mortality levels are declining in the country as observed from the 5,1% decrease in deaths between the years 2016 and 2017 and 3,0% decline between 2015 and 2016.


While the occurrence of deaths in the country continued to decline it differed by age and sex. The age groups 60–64 and 65-69 had the highest proportion of deaths in 2017 both at 8,1%, followed by age group 55–59 at 7,5%. On the opposite side of the age spectrum, the results showed the lowest proportions of deaths were observed in age groups 5–9 years and 10–14 years with each at 0,6 % of the 2017 deaths.  Regarding the sex ratio, between 1997 and 2017, there were more male than female deaths from age 0 to age group 65−69; whereas female deaths consistently exceeded male deaths for ages 75 years and above. There were more female deaths for age group 70−74 years between 2012 and 2014. The results also indicate that in 2017, the highest sex ratio (167 male deaths per 100 female deaths) was observed in the age group 20−24 years. The pattern was observed for three consecutive years, between 2015 and 2017.


According to the global burden of diseases, three of the top five leading underlying causes of death for males were communicable diseases whilst among females, tuberculosis was the only communicable disease and the rest being non-communicable diseases. The results showed that nine of the ten leading causes of death were the same for both sexes, although with different rankings. Tuberculosis was the leading underlying cause of death for males, accounting for 7,6% of male deaths while the diabetes mellitus was the leading underlying cause of death amongst females accounting for 7,3% of female deaths. Human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] disease (4,7%) was the second leading cause of death for the males, followed by other forms of heart disease (4,4%). Cerebrovascular diseases (6,0%) was the second leading underlying cause of death for females. In 2017, the most significant decline amongst females were deaths due to tuberculosis which declined from 5,9% in 2015 to 5,1% in 2017. Even with males, there was a significant decline in tuberculosis deaths from 8,3% in 2015 to 7,6% in 2017.


This statistical release also addressed quality issues of data on mortality and causes of death from the civil registration system. Maintaining high quality of information is vital for the improvement of the population health status and for monitoring progress towards national, regional and international goals. Future scale up of initiatives aimed at improving death registration and reducing spoiled forms are needed to strengthen completeness and quality of causes of death information in the country.