THE death rate among employees of companies that bought risk cover from Old Mutual fell almost 20% between 2008 and 2011 — a decline that came as the government’s drive to get more HIV patients on treatment gathered pace.
Research by the financial services company, released on Wednesday, is consistent with the findings of a study published last year by the Medical Research Council which found life expectancy to have risen to 60 years in 2011, up from 56.5 years in 2009 as fewer people died of AIDS.
Old Mutual’s findings also tally with the latest UNAIDS Global Report, which estimated that sub-Saharan Africa had seen a 25% reduction in new HIV infections between 2001 and 2011. UNAIDS is the joint United Nations Agency on HIV/AIDS.
Old Mutual’s research not only underscores the effect of the government’s AIDS treatment programme, but also highlights a direct benefit for companies, since better risk profiles mean lower insurance premiums.
"It is almost inconceivable that this pandemic might end, but the research shows that the efforts that have been put in (to counter HIV) are starting to bear fruit," said Old Mutual group assurance actuary Neil Parkin.
Old Mutual’s research assessed the death rate among about 500,000 people employed in a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, mining, retail, financial services, and local municipalities. Old Mutual found the death rate to have fallen to 6.8 per 1,000 in 2011, down from 8.3 per 1,000 in 2008. This represented a decline of 18%. There were 15,000 deaths over the four-year period.
The change was not uniform across the groups surveyed, however. Companies with higher income workers with relatively low mortality rates generally saw little change over the four-year period, while groups that had high death rates in 2008 saw the biggest change.
Mr Parkin said increased access to antiretroviral medicines, as well as new policies that allowed patients to start treatment earlier in the course of the disease had contributed to the drop in AIDS-related deaths.
"We track the experience of large clients year to year, and as it (the risk profile) changes, so premiums come down. We have seen several clients with declines in death rates of 20% or more.
"The extent of the reduction (in premiums) naturally depends on how Aids currently affects the group and how it is managed within the workforce," he said.
A separate study conducted by Old Mutual last year assessing trends in disability claims between 2003 and 2011 also highlighted the effect of HIV treatment. This study found that in 2003, 65% of the disability claims that came to an end did so because the claimant had died.
By 2011, the figure had fallen to 20%, as an increasing number of HIV patients were able to return to work, said Mr Parkin.
Despite the gains in life expectancy, South Africa’s HIV epidemic remains a challenge. The government’s most recent antenatal clinic survey found 29.5% of pregnant women using these facilities were infected with HIV, a level that has remained constant for the past five years. Even so, there was some good news in the survey, which found the rate of new infections was declining and more women in their 30s were living longer as they got access to antiretroviral treatment.