OBJECTIVE To examine temporal trends in caesarean delivery rates in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, by country and wealth quintile. METHODS Cross-sectional data were extracted from the results of 80 Demographic and Health Surveys conducted in 26 countries in southern Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Caesarean delivery rates were evaluated - as percentages of the deliveries that ended in live births - for each wealth quintile in each survey. The annual rates recorded for each country were then compared to see if they had increased over time. FINDINGS Caesarean delivery rates had risen over time in all but 6 study countries but were consistently found to be lower than 5% in 18 of the countries and 10% or less in the other eight countries. Among the poorest 20% of the population, caesarean sections accounted for less than 1% and less than 2% of deliveries in 12 and 21 of the study countries, respectively. In each of 11 countries, the caesarean delivery rate in the poorest 40% of the population remained under 1%. In Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger and Nigeria, the rate remained under 1% in the poorest 80%. Compared with the 22 African study countries, the four study countries in southern Asia experienced a much greater rise in their caesarean delivery rates over time. However, the rates recorded among the poorest quintile in each of these countries consistently fell below 2%. CONCLUSION Caesarean delivery rates among large sections of the population in sub-Saharan Africa are very low, probably because of poor access to such surgery. Abstract available from the publisher. Abstract available from the publisher. Abstract available from the publisher. Abstract available from the publisher. Abstract available from the publisher.