All-cause mortality, based on national tuberculosis programme (NTP) register deaths, may under- or overestimate tuberculosis (TB) specific mortality in the population.
To assess the factors influencing this measurement in a single large population with high TB prevalence and mortality.
Routinely collected data on TB cases and treatment outcomes were linked to population data from a cohort of South African miners from 1995 to 2008. Vital status and cause of death were determined from multiple sources, including the TB programme, death register and autopsy.
The TB mortality rate, based on 430 deaths on the TB register, was 192/100,000 person-years (py). Many of these deaths (57%) were not caused by TB, and 483 TB deaths were identified outside the programme. Overall, there were 674 TB-specific deaths; the TB-specific mortality rate was 302/100,000 py. These deaths included 191 (28%) on the TB register, 23 (3%) among defaulters/transfers, 153 (23%) after anti-tuberculosis treatment and 307 (46%) in men who had never been on the programme.
This study highlights methodological issues in estimating TB mortality. In this population, a method using the product of TB incidence and case fatality consistently underestimated TB mortality. Accurate estimates of TB-specific mortality are crucial for the proper evaluation of TB control programmes.