To measure the success rate of three different strategies used in Médecins Sans Frontières large-scale therapeutic nutritional rehabilitation programme in Niger, we analysed three cohorts of severely malnourished patients in terms of daily weight gain, length of stay, recovery, case fatality and defaulting. A total of 1937 children aged 6–59 months were followed prospectively from 15 August 2002 to 21 October 2003. For the three cohorts, 660 children were maintained in the therapeutic feeding centre (TFC) during the entire treatment, 937 children were initially treated at the TFC and completed treatment at home and 340 children were exclusively treated at home. For all cohorts, average time in the programme and average weight gain met the international standards (30–40 days, >8 g/kg/day). Default rates were 28.1, 16.8 and 5.6% for TFC only, TFC plus home-based and home-based alone strategies, respectively. The overall case fatality rate for the entire programme was 6.8%. Case fatality rates were 18.9% for TFC only and 1.7% for home-based alone. No deaths were recorded in children transferred to rehabilitation at home. This study suggests that satisfactory results for the treatment of severe malnutrition can be achieved using a combination of home and hospital-based strategies.