Two surveys of maternal mortality conducted in Egypt, in 1992-93 and in 2000, collected data from a representative sample of health bureaus covering all of Egypt, except for five frontier governorates which were covered only by the later survey, using the vital registration forms. The numbers of maternal deaths were determined and interviews conducted. The medical causes of death and avoidable factors were determined. Results showed that the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) had dropped by 52% within that period (from 174 to 84/100,000 live births). The National Maternal Mortality Survey in 1992-93 (NMMS) revealed that the metropolitan areas and Upper Egypt had a higher MMR than Lower Egypt. In response to these results, the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) intensified the efforts of its Safe Motherhood programmes in Upper Egypt with the result that the regional situation had reversed in 2000. Consideration of the intermediate and outcome indicators suggests that the greatest effect of maternal health interventions was on the death-related avoidable factors "substandard care by health providers" and "delays in recognizing problems or seeking medical care". The enormous improvements in these areas are certainly due in part to extensive training, revised curricula, the publication of medical protocols and services standards, the upgrading of facilities, and successful community outreach programmes and media campaigns. The impact on the utilization of antenatal care (ANC) has been less successful. Other areas that remain problematic are inadequate supplies of blood, drugs and equipment. Although the number of maternal deaths linked to haemorrhage has been drastically reduced, it remains the primary cause. The drop in maternal mortality in the 1990s in response to Safe Motherhood programmes was impressive and the ability to tailor interventions based on the data from the NMMS of 1992-93 and 2000 was clearly demonstrated. To ensure the continuing availability of information to guide and evaluate programmes for reducing maternal mortality, an Egyptian national maternal mortality surveillance system is being developed.