Glycaemic status on hospital admission was compared in 97 children with severe falciparum malaria (36 with cerebral malaria) and 89 children with other serious illnesses (32 in coma; 57 with acute pneumonia, not in coma). The frequency of hypoglycaemia (blood glucose below 2.2 mmol/l) did not differ significantly between malarial and control patients (5.2% vs 11.2%) nor between the comatose (11.1% vs 18.8%) and conscious (1.6% vs 7.0%) malarial and control subgroups. Compared with normoglycaemic patients, hypoglycaemic patients had appropriately low serum insulin (3.0 vs 8.2 mU/l) and C-peptide (0.13 vs 0.42 mmol/l) and high plasma non-esterified fatty acids (1.42 vs 0.83 mmol/l). Hypoglycaemia, the level of consciousness, and death were all significantly associated with the time since the last meal. Hypoglycaemia is not a specific complication of malaria but is found in severely ill fasted children, resulting from glycogen depletion and perhaps impaired hepatic gluconeogenesis. It should be sought in all severely sick children. A single bolus dose of glucose may not be enough to correct it.