As part of the Safe Motherhood Initiative, launched in 1987, the World Health Organization have produced and promoted a partograph with a view to improving labour management and reducing maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality. This partograph has been tested in a multicentre trial in south east Asia involving 35,484 women. Introduction of the partograph with an agreed labour-management protocol reduced both prolonged labour (from 6.4% to 3.4% of labours) and the proportion of labours requiring augmentation (from 20.7% to 9.1%). Emergency caesarean sections fell from 9.9% to 8.3%, and intrapartum stillbirths from 0.5% to 0.3%. Among singleton pregnancies with no complicating factors, the improved outcome was even more marked, with caesarean sections falling from 6.2% to 4.5%. The improvements took place among both nulliparous and multiparous women. The World Health Organisation partograph clearly differentiates normal from abnormal progress in labour and identifies those women likely to require intervention. Its use in all labour wards is recommended.