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Data doesn’t back claim that SA ranks 8th for suicide worldwide

This article is more than 6 years old

South Africa has the “eighth-highest suicide rate in the world”, the founder of a local men’s health charity told news website Sowetan Live last week.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) collects data on suicide rates from around the world. Their latest data, from 2015, estimated that there were 12.3 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 people in South Africa that year. (Note: This is the “age-standardised suicide rate” which allows for fair comparisons between different countries.)

This suicide rate did not place South Africa eighth in the world - in fact, it didn’t even put it in the top 50.

When Africa Check previously fact-checked this claim, we traced it to a press release by the South African Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH). But the organisation’s deputy director distanced them from the statistic, with Leon de Beer saying it “was released by a former employee and the documents that this is based on seem to no longer be available”.

WHO strongly advises against international ranking

While the claim is incorrect, the WHO strongly advises against drawing any international comparisons using this data. This is because of poor classification and registration of deaths in certain countries.

“There may be stigma, financial or legal implications for listing suicide on a death certificate,” WHO statistician Gretchen Stevens previously explained to Africa Check. “Therefore the number of [suicide] deaths recorded in vital registration systems may be an underestimate, and the extent of the underestimate may vary by country.”

Stevens said that the WHO’s estimates may provide useful “context of how other countries with similar incomes or in the same region are doing”. However, the organisation does not release rankings because of the numerous problems associated with the data.- Kate Wilkinson (11/09/2017)


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