Despite rapid economic growth since World War II, health conditions improved only slowly in most of Central America. This is a result of poor medical, social, and economic infrastructure, income maldistribution, and the poor utilization of health investments. The economic crisis of the 1980s and civil strife have further endangered health in the region. Life expectancy has fallen among men in El Salvador and civil strife has become the most common cause of death in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Large-scale US assistance has done little to improve conditions, and refugees continue to pour into North America. It is estimated that there are more than a million refugees within Central America, while a million have fled to the United States. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are partial exceptions to this dismal health picture. An effective approach to the many health problems in Central America will require joint planning and cooperation among all countries in the region.