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Int J Epidemiol. 1998 Aug;27(4):698-702.

Causes of death in a rural, population-based human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) natural history cohort in Uganda.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Programme on AIDS/Uganda Virus Research Institute, Entebbe.



While human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related causes of death have been well documented in developed countries, in Africa data are scanty and mainly based on autopsy studies from city hospitals which are highly selective and may not represent causes of HIV-associated deaths in the general population. This study, from a rural population, describes the causes of death in HIV-positive people and their HIV-negative controls.


A natural history cohort comprising HIV-1 infected participants and HIV-negative controls was established in rural Uganda in 1990. Causes of death were determined by reviewing the premorbid clinical and laboratory findings and from information obtained from relatives. Blindness to the deceased's HIV serostatus was maintained throughout.


In all, 78 deaths occurred over a 6-year period: 63 deaths occurred in the HIV-positive cases (53 prevalent and 10 incident cases) and 15 deaths in the HIV-negative controls. Of the prevalent cases, 56%, and 9% the incident cases enrolled died, compared with 7% of the HIV-negative controls. Of the 55 HIV-positive cases with sufficient data to establish cause of death, 52 (95%) were assessed as having HIV-associated deaths and 48 (87%) died in WHO stage 4 (AIDS). The main causes of death were wasting syndrome (31%), chronic diarrhoea (22%), cryptococcal meningitis (13%) and chest infection (11%).


Our results represent an unbiased selection of deaths in a rural area. The HIV-positive cases have high death rates and die of HIV-related pathologies. The main causes of death reflect the WHO clinical case definition of AIDS. Cryptococcal meningitis is also a common cause of death in this population.

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