A joint study by researchers from the International Institute of Applied Systems and Analysis, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Zambia has shown that HIV remains the leading cause of death in Zambia.
This is despite the fact that people in sub-Saharan Africa are now living longer than they did two decades ago.
The study also shows that average life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa remains below that of the rest of the world population.
The study results show that HIV/AIDS is still the leading cause of death among Zambian adults in the age group 15 to 59 years, with higher proportions among women than men.
In their study published in the journal Tropical Medicine and International Health, the researchers analyzed the World Health Organization’s Zambia Sample Vital Registration with Verbal Autopsy (SAVVY) survey data to determine the main causes of death among adults in the country.
The study further explored the data to determine whether there were any age-sex cause-specific mortality patterns for the five major causes of death identified within the adult age group and if there was any kind of socio-economic or regional disparity in the causes of death among the adult population.
“There is a great demand for analyzing SAVVY data in order to understand the cause of death patterns specific to Zambia. An empirical investigation based on real data gives crucial input to prioritize health investments that could help to minimize premature deaths, which could, in turn, have immense implications on the economic and physiological wellbeing of the country,” explains Nandita Saikia, a former postdoctoral researcher at IIASA and one of the authors of the study.
The study shows that for men, injuries and accidental deaths was the second leading cause of death, while for women it was tuberculosis.
The researchers, however, point out that some HIV/AIDS deaths might have been misclassified as tuberculosis deaths as the two are closely associated.
Malaria and non-communicable diseases of the circulatory system each also accounted for a significant portion of deaths, although the ranking of these diseases varied by gender.
The study indicates that a notable number of additional years of life expectancy would be gained across the population by eliminating especially HIV/AIDS in the adult age group.
For the male population, the number of years gained would be 5.77 years, while for the female population it would be 6.40 years in the 15 to 59 age group.
Eliminating tuberculosis and malaria in the country could also increase adult life expectancy by between 1.09 and 1.71 years.
In addition to the above, the analysis shows a correlation between level of education and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, along with a strong regional variation in cause of death patterns, especially in terms of HIV/AIDS deaths, which varied between 25.5% in the northern province to 45.1% in the western province of Zambia.
“Our findings reiterate the importance of continuous health investment towards eradicating diseases like HIV/AIDS in terms of treatment, awareness, education, and prevention. At the same time, interventions should take into account age-sex or socioeconomic characteristics. For instance, while men might need more interventions to reduce injury-related deaths, women might need access to more treatment for diseases like HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis,” concludes study lead author Vesper Chisumpa, a PhD student at the University of the Witwatersrand and a lecturer at the University of Zambia.