A prospective study of 4934 babies of different ethnic groups has confirmed the high perinatal mortality rate for Pakistanis and has shown that this was not due to a reluctance to terminate a fetus who is known to be seriously malformed. The major cause of early mortality was a high rate of lethal malformations, which occurred in about 1 in 100 Pakistani babies and which accounted for about half of their perinatal mortality. Many of these were autosomal recessive and occurred only in the offspring of consanguineous parents. However, there was also an excess of lethal cardiac malformations which were not associated with parental consanguinity. The remainder of the excess perinatal mortality was probably due to socio-economic factors. These causes are partly amenable to preventive measures, such as the referral of Pakistani women for expert ultrasonography at 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.