Maverick Citizen


Discovery recorded the most deaths in its history in 2021 – but figures are back to normal

Discovery recorded the most deaths in its history in 2021 – but figures are back to normal
Deaths related to Covid-19 for Discovery Medical Scheme members reached a record in 2021. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

A year into the Covid pandemic, SA’s largest medical scheme, Discovery, saw a record number of deaths. Now, numbers have returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The number of deaths recorded in 2021 was the highest in the 13-year history of the Discovery Medical Scheme, its researchers said in a report published on Thursday.

According to the report, Covid-19 was responsible for most excess deaths in 2020 and 2021.

“When we removed deaths coded by healthcare workers as having been related to Covid-19 from the analysis, we note only a slightly elevated mortality risk in 2021.

“This means Covid-related deaths are responsible for the majority of the excess deaths seen in the 2020 and 2021 periods,” the authors noted. 

“We also note, after excluding Covid-related deaths, that the mortality rates for both males and females are lower than pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“Although mortality rates reached a historic high during the pandemic’s second year, death rates returned to near pre-pandemic levels by September 2022,” the medical insurer said in a statement.

This report also shared the top drivers of death over the past decade. 

Cancer remained the single leading cause of death for Discovery Health Medical Scheme clients between 2012 and September 2022, except for 2021 when Covid became the leading cause of death.

Diabetes, ranked eighth in 2012, moved to fifth in 2022. 

The authors, Lizelle Steenkamp, Lebohang Radebe and Shirley Collie, wrote that death rates reached historic levels during the first two years of the pandemic in South Africa.

In 2020, overall death rates for medical scheme members increased to 542 deaths per 100,000 lives, already higher than pre-pandemic levels. Mortality rates went on to reach their highest level in the history of the scheme in 2021, at 767 deaths per 100,000 life years.

Death rates, however, had returned to near pre-pandemic levels by September 2022, at 480 deaths per 100,000 life years.

The report further found that death rates for men were historically higher. 

In 2010, on average, 151 more men than women per 100,000 life years were dying. While this gap was narrowed in subsequent years, the report states that men saw a much higher increase in mortality rates during the early years of the pandemic, and remained at an increasingly higher risk of death than women even in 2022 compared with pre-pandemic levels.

By September 2022, male mortality risk was 5.7% higher, and female mortality risk was 1.9% higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Covid numbers remain low in South Africa. According to this weekly report, 208 cases were detected from all surveillance programmes. The latest genomic sequencing shows that Omicron remains the dominant subvariant. DM


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