Mortality from meningococcal disease was determined during an epidemic in a rural area of The Gambia with few medical resources, but where a system of registration of births and deaths had been established before the introduction of a primary health care programme. 33 deaths were recorded among 127 patients, a case mortality rate of 26%. 84% of deaths occurred within the first 24 h of illness and many patients died before they could reach any source of treatment. Previous studies, based on regional statistics or on hospital series, may have underestimated mortality from epidemic meningitis in Africa. Mortality from this infection will be reduced only if treatment can be made readily accessible to patients early in the course of their illness.