Most childhood interventions (vaccines, micronutrients) in low-income countries are justified by their assumed effect on child survival. However, usually the interventions have only been studied with respect to their disease/deficiency-specific effects and not for their overall effects on morbidity and mortality. In many situations, the population-based effects have been very different from the anticipated effects; for example, the measles-preventive high-titre measles vaccine was associated with 2-fold increased female mortality; BCG reduces neonatal mortality although children do not die of tuberculosis in the neonatal period; vitamin A may be associated with increased or reduced child mortality in different situations; effects of interventions may differ for boys and girls. The reasons for these and other contrasts between expectations and observations are likely to be that the immune system learns more than specific prevention from an intervention; such training may enhance or reduce susceptibility to unrelated infections. INDEPTH member centres have been in an ideal position to document such additional non-specific effects of interventions because they follow the total population long term. It is proposed that more INDEPTH member centres extend their routine data collection platform to better measure the use and effects of childhood interventions. In a longer perspective, INDEPTH may come to play a stronger role in defining health research issues of relevance to low-income countries.