BACKGROUND:With increasing urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa and poor economic performance, the growth of slums is unavoidable. About 71% of urban residents in Kenya live in slums. Slums are characteristically unplanned, underserved by social services, and their residents are largely underemployed and poor. Recent research shows that the urban poor fare worse than their rural counterparts on most health indicators, yet much about the health of the urban poor remains unknown. This study aims to quantify the burden of mortality of the residents in two Nairobi slums, using a Burden of Disease approach and data generated from a Demographic Surveillance System.METHODS:Data from the Nairobi Urban Health and Demographic Surveillance System (NUHDSS) collected between January 2003 and December 2005 were analysed. Core demographic events in the NUHDSS including deaths are updated three times a year; cause of death is ascertained by verbal autopsy and cause of death is assigned according to the ICD 10 classification. Years of Life Lost due to premature mortality (YLL) were calculated by multiplying deaths in each subcategory of sex, age group and cause of death, by the Global Burden of Disease standard life expectancy at that age.RESULTS:The overall mortality burden per capita was 205 YLL/1,000 person years. Children under the age of five years had more than four times the mortality burden of the rest of the population, mostly due to pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases. Among the population aged five years and above, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis accounted for about 50% of the mortality burden.CONCLUSION:Slum residents in Nairobi have a high mortality burden from preventable and treatable conditions. It is necessary to focus on these vulnerable populations since their health outcomes are comparable to or even worse than the health outcomes of rural dwellers who are often the focus of most interventions.