The authors report data collected prospectively on 551 cases of head injury in New Delhi, India, and 822 cases in Charlottesville, Virginia. The mortality rate, adjusted for initial severity of injury, was 11.0% in New Delhi versus 7.2% in Charlottesville (p < 0.02). There was a striking similarity in mortality rates at both centers when comparing patients with the least severe head injuries and those with the most severe injuries according to the motor score of the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS M). However, in the group with an abnormal but purposeful motor response (GCS M = 5), the mortality rate was 12.5% in New Delhi versus 4.8% in Charlottesville (p < 0.01). The relative absence of prehospital emergency care and the delay in admission after head injury in New Delhi are cited as two possible causes for the differences in mortality rates in this subgroup of patients with 'moderate' head injuries.