Acute respiratory infections (ARI) are among the leading causes of childhood mortality. Estimates of the number of children worldwide who die from ARI are needed in setting priorities for health care. To establish a relation between deaths due to ARI and all-cause deaths in children under 5 years we show that the proportion of deaths directly attributable to ARI declines from 23% to 18% and then 15% (95% confidence limits range from +/- 2% to +/- 3%) as under-5 mortality declines from 50 to 20 and then to 10/1000 per year. Much of the variability in estimates of ARI in children is shown to be inherent in the use of verbal autopsies. This analysis suggests that throughout the world 1.9 million (95% CI 1.6-2.2 million) children died from ARI in 2000, 70% of them in Africa and southeast Asia.