An investigation by South Africa's Medical Research Council has found that, last year, AIDS was the leading cause of death in South Africans between the ages of 15 and 49.
In a report leaked to the local media, the Medical Research Council says that in the year 2000, HIV/AIDS accounted for 40 percent of deaths among 15 to 49-year-olds and 20 percent of deaths in the overall adult population. The council predicts that 5-7 million South Africans will be dead from AIDS by the year 2010.
The figures are in accord with World Health Organization statistics indicating that South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world and that as many as 25 percent of the adult population has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The council's report is based on an in-depth study into the causes of death since 1996 and has been compiled with the assistance of demographers, actuaries and other experts - both local and international.
At present, the report is going through a process of review by government departments, including the cabinet. The delay in releasing it has prompted local media and AIDS activists to accuse the government of trying to suppress the report.
The activists have also been angered by statements from senior government officials questioning the quality of the research involved in the report.
Council President Malagapuru Makgoba earlier this week told Business Day newspaper that he has no doubt that the report will be made public in due course. It is now expected to be released concurrently with a study undertaken by the department of statistics - due late next month.