Can routine inpatient mortality data improve HIV mortality estimates? Inpatient mortality at an urban hospital in South Africa
Background. South Africa (SA) has one of the world’s largest HIV treatment programmes, to which a dramatic increase in life expectancy has been attributed. However, there continue to be concerns regarding the reporting of HIV-related mortality in SA, which varies by source. As accurate HIV mortality estimates are key to measuring the success of the national programme as well as identifying areas for improvement, we propose a complementary approach to monitoring changes in HIV-related mortality using routine inpatient records to examine trends in causes of death and HIV status over time.
Objectives. To investigate the feasibility of this approach by calculating mortality due to natural causes in the medical ward of a hospital during 2010 by HIV status.
Methods. We conducted a cross-sectional study of inpatient mortality at a regional hospital in Johannesburg, SA, analysing all deaths due to natural causes among adult medical ward inpatients. Cause of death was recorded from the mortuary register. HIV status was ascertained directly from the mortuary register or from laboratory tests specific for HIV diagnosis or monitoring.
Results. Of 1 167 inpatients who died, the majority were HIV-positive (58%). HIV positivity among males (55%) was slightly lower than that among females (61%), and HIV-positive patients were younger (median 40 years) than those who were HIV-negative (56 years) and of unknown HIV status (68 years). ‘Infections and parasites’ was the most common cause of natural death (29%). On average, HIV-positive patients were admitted for slightly longer (mean 10.5 days) than HIV-negative patients (9.6 days) and those of unknown HIV status (8.9 days), yet HIV-positive inpatient deaths accounted for the majority (62%) of the total bed days.
Conclusions. Even with widespread access to antiretroviral therapy, the majority of inpatient natural deaths at a large public sector hospital in 2010 were of HIV-positive patients and were probably related to HIV. In view of the importance of accurate data on causes of death, both for the HIV programme and to track other diseases, large-scale expansion of this approach over a longer period should be considered.