Urban African maternity care systems face problems, as rapid population growth puts them under increasing pressure. In 1983 a decentralised system with midwife-run maternity units at health centres was initiated in Lusaka. A community-based survey of 1210 women conducted in 1999 examined access, coverage and quality of care in these maternity services. Results were generally positive: 99% of respondents received some antenatal check-ups and three quarters had five or more. Institutional delivery rate was 89.5%. Home birth was associated with belonging to a "very poor" household. Sixty three per cent of births were in the decentralised units. Eighty nine per cent reported care as "good" or "very good", but 21% remembered someone who had treated them badly during labour, principally by shouting or scolding. One fifth of women reported having been left alone for "too long" in labour. Less than half of the women said they would like a lay labour companion and three quarters would prefer a companion at the delivery.