At the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, a tertiary referral hospital in northern Tanzania, both the number of paediatric cases of lower respiratory-tract infection (LRTI) and the associated mortality increased between 2000 and 2001. Molecular diagnostic tools were used to enhance the identification of the pathogens responsible for this perceived increase. All 72 children aged between 2 and 60 months who were admitted with LRTI over a 3-month period were enrolled in the study. Induced sputum was collected from each child and, if the parents consented, the subjects were also tested for HIV. The sputum samples were each checked for bacteria by culture and, in amplification assays, for the DNA of Pneumocystis proved, Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Twenty-two (50%) of the 44 children tested for HIV had HIV-1 antibodies. Although only two children, both aged <6 months, were found PCR-positive for P. jiroveci, and only one was found positive for M. tuberculosis, 46 (including one of those found positive for P. jiroveci and the child found positive for M. tuberculosis) were found PCR-positive for S. pneumoniae. It therefore appears that most paediatric cases of LRTI who present at the hospital are attributable to S. pneumoniae, and that infections with this pathogen are entirely responsible for the observed increase in the incidence of LTRI in the local children. The increase seen in LRTI-associated mortality among the children may be the result of pneumococcal antibiotic resistance.