Tuesday September 18, 2001

S. Africa to Release Figures on AIDS Deaths



JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Medical Research Council said on Tuesday it would release official figures on AIDS-related deaths between 1997 and 2000 by the end of the year.

The statement came 2 days after local media published a report, citing the council, saying AIDS was now the leading cause of death in South Africa.

Last week, South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has attracted a storm of controversy for questioning the link between HIV and AIDS, once again stated AIDS was not the country's biggest killer.

The Sunday Times, citing an unreleased MRC report, said AIDS killed 40% of South Africans aged 15 to 49 last year, and forecast the disease could kill as many as 6 million South Africans by 2010.

In a statement issued on Tuesday the council said: ``It is unfortunate the MRC research has become public.''

The council researched AIDS-related deaths last year together with Statistics South Africa. The council said it was working hard to process the figures.

"Since the release of Statistics SA's official mortality figures is expected within a few months, detailed government comment on the MRC research will be reserved,'' the MRC said in a statement.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is believed to infect more than 20% of the country's adult population.

The epidemic has been linked to rising poverty and crime as it kills off breadwinners and leaves impoverished orphans in its wake.

In a letter to his health minister published in the Business Day newspaper, Mbeki said HIV/AIDS was only attributable to 2.2% of deaths in South Africa.

The figures Mbeki cited were compiled by the United Nations World Health Organization in 1995.