Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A "remarkable" difference in the respective life expectancy of men and women in a rural area is due to tuberculosis (TB) and injuries linked to violence.

On average‚ women in the uMkhanyakude District — bordering Mozambique and Swaziland in the north of KwaZulu-Natal — live 10.4 years longer than men‚ according to a new study.

For HIV-negative people, the gap is even greater‚ at 13.1 years‚ and the researchers say both figures are "exceptionally large" compared with the worldwide average gap of five years.

Academics from the school of public health at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the African Health Research Institute at the University of KwaZulu-Natal‚ with colleagues from the UK and US‚ attributed 5.6 years of the life expectancy gap in HIV-negative people to the higher TB mortality rate among men.

"Elevated rates of external injuries among men accounted for 4.1 years of the total sex difference‚" they wrote in the journal Plos One.

Data used by the scientists came from a demographic surveillance system and HIV prevalence surveys‚ and in some cases goes back to 2000.

Life expectancy was put at 56.4 years for men and 66.8 years for women‚ with the gap "more than four times the World Health Organisation’s 2013 estimate of 2.5 years for the African region as a whole‚" said the researchers‚ led by Georges Reniers from Wits.

Aside from the size of the difference with the regional average‚ two other reasons rendered the results remarkable‚ they said: • HIV prevalence in the study population was very high‚ something that usually reduces sex differences in life expectancy; and • Male mortality was disproportionally high as a result of TB and injuries.

"These results … signal the need to improve efforts to target men with preventative‚ diagnostic and curative health services‚" the researchers said.

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