This paper assesses the changes in avoidable mortality in Lithuania in 1991-1999 compared with 1970-1990. Causes of death were disaggregated into causes most amenable to treatment and those amenable to prevention. Trends in age-standardised death rates were calculated. In 1970-1990, avoidable causes of death accounted for 26.3% of all deaths. By 1991-1999 this figure had decreased slightly to 24.6%. At the same time, age-standardised death rates from avoidable causes increased by 8%, from 118.1 per 100000 in 1970-1990 to 127.9 in 1991-1999. Avoidable mortality among men was considerably higher than for women in both periods. There was considerable fluctuation in both treatable and preventable mortality during the 1990s, reflecting diversity in trends in different causes of death. Increases occurred in death rates from tuberculosis, cervical cancer and liver cirrhosis and, immediately after independence, also in hypertensive and cerebrovascular diseases and, among men, lung cancer, followed by subsequent declines. Deaths from chronic rheumatic heart disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases, appendicitis, abdominal hernia, cholelithiasis and maternal mortality consistently declined. In conclusion, avoidable mortality declined as a proportion of total mortality in Lithuania during 1991-1999 compared with 1970-1990. This reflected the combined impact of an initial rise in death rates from treatable and, to a lesser extent, preventable causes, followed by subsequent declines. While this indicates some success in the development of medical care, it emphasises the need for more effective public health policies directed at the major determinants of health.