Almost 350 children died of malnutrition in SA during lockdown in 2020

Almost 350 children died of malnutrition in SA during lockdown in 2020
Graves of patients who succumbed to Covid-19 at the Papenkuil Cemetry in Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Death figures for 2020, released by Statistics South Africa on Tuesday, reveal the initial devastating impact the pandemic had on the country, especially among the elderly. The report also shows that 347 children died of malnutrition during South Africa’s lockdown year.

In 2020, Covid displaced tuberculosis, diabetes and strokes as the most prevalent natural cause of death. This emerged in a Statistics SA report on the causes of death in South Africa in that year.

The pandemic and the socio-economic impact of lockdown also claimed the lives of hundreds of children through malnutrition.

Malnutrition features prominently in seven of the country’s provinces (with the exception of the Western Cape and Gauteng) as a major cause of deaths in babies under the age of 1 and children between the ages of 1 and 14.

Read more in in Daily Maverick: Child malnutrition breeds aggression and violence, and we will reap the bitter lockdown harvest

In the Eastern Cape, 29 babies and 25 children under the age of fourteen died of malnutrition. 

In the Northern Cape, malnutrition was recorded as the most prevalent cause of death for children aged 1 to 14, where 26 deaths were recorded. 

In the Free State, 53 babies died of malnutrition, as did 20 children. 

In KwaZulu-Natal, 30 children under the age of 14 died. 

In the North-West, 59 babies died of malnutrition, as did 65 children. 

In Mpumalanga, 15 children died.

A further 25 died in Limpopo.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Child malnutrition in the Eastern Cape ‘qualifies as a disaster’

Read more in Daily Maverick: Many mothers going hungry for the sake of their children, new data shows

Read more in Daily Maverick: Children are still dying of malnutrition in the Free State

Despite lockdown measures being in place during this time, violence – including assaults (12%) and traffic accidents (9.7%) – claimed more lives than did Covid.

The total number of deaths recorded for 2020 was 489,744.

The leading cause of death was recorded as Covid – having caused 6.7% of deaths (around 33,000). This superseded diabetes and cerebrovascular disease (stroke).

At the time, South Africa had only experienced a first wave of infections caused by the wild virus (Alpha). The more fatal Beta and Delta variants only caused subsequent waves in the following year (except for the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, where the Beta wave started in late 2020).

A global meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in January, showed that the Alpha virus had the lowest fatality rates, while the Beta variant, with a 4.19% fatality rate, was the deadliest strain.

South Africa’s deadliest year on record since democracy remains 2006, when tuberculosis was recorded as causing most of the 607,184 deaths in the country.

The report further highlights that the 65-69 age group had the highest proportion of deaths at (9.3%), while the age group 5-9 had the lowest at (0.5%). 

The provinces with the highest proportion of deaths were Gauteng (22,2%), KwaZulu-Natal (19,3%) and Eastern Cape (15,9%). The province with the lowest percentage of deaths was Northern Cape (3,1%).

TB dropped from second to sixth place as a cause of death in 2020. DM



"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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