A comparative retrospective analysis of maternal deaths at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Nigeria, was carried out for two ten-year periods--1976-1985 and 1991-2000--in order to evaluate the effect of Safe Motherhood Initiative on maternal mortality in the hospital. Variables for the two periods were compared by means of the t-test at 95% confidence level. Maternal mortality ratio was significantly higher in Period II than in Period I (1406 versus 270 per 100,000, p = 0.00). The leading causes of maternal death were uterine rupture for Period I and septicaemia for Period II. Although from the first to the second ten-year period there was a significant decrease in the number of midwives, physicians and nurse anaesthetists, there was more than a proportionate decrease in the number of deliveries. There was also increase in the incidence of anaemia due to diminished standards of living and in the mean decision-intervention interval (1.5 +/- 0.5 versus 5.8 +/- 1.2 hours; p = 0.000) as a result of worker dissatisfaction and changes in hospital policies. We conclude that since the launching of the Safe Motherhood Initiative, MMR at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Nigeria, has increased five-fold as a result of institutional delays and a deterioration in the living standards of Nigerians, both consequences of a depressed economy. To halt this trend, we recommend that the living standard of all Nigerians should be improved. Furthermore, healthcare personnel should be motivated through enhanced salaries and provision of working materials including efficient mobile telephone services.