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This paper describes how an up-to-date national population register recording deaths by age and sex, whether deaths were due to natural or unnatural causes, and the offices at which the deaths were recorded can be used to monitor excess death during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, both nationally, and sub-nationally, in a country with a vital registration system that is neither up to date nor complete. Apart from suggesting an approach for estimating completeness of reporting at a sub-national level, the application produces estimates of the number of deaths in excess of those expected in the absence of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic that are highly correlated with the confirmed number of COVID-19 deaths over time, but at a level 2.5 to 3 times higher than the official numbers of COVID-19 deaths. Apportioning the observed excess deaths more precisely to COVID, COVID-related and collateral deaths, and non-COVID deaths averted by interventions with reduced mobility and gatherings, etc., requires access to real-time cause-of-death information. It is suggested that the transition from ICD-10 to ICD-11 should be used as an opportunity to change from a paper-based system to electronic capture of the medical cause-of-death information.
Dorrington, R. E., Moultrie, T. A., Laubscher, R., Groenewald, P. J., & Bradshaw, D. (2021). Rapid mortality surveillance using a national population register to monitor excess deaths during SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in South Africa. Genus, 77(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41118-021-00134-6