The number of cases of treated end-stage renal disease (ESRD) attributable to type 2 diabetes and survival after the onset of renal replacement therapy was examined in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). All Chamorros and Carolinians to receive renal replacement therapy for ESRD between January 1982 and December 2002 were identified. Changes in survival over time were examined by dividing the study into three equal periods. Of 180 new cases of ESRD, 137 (76%; 101 Chamorros, 36 Carolinians) were attributed to diabetes. Ninety-nine subjects, 80% of whom had diabetic ESRD, began renal replacement therapy in the last 7 years of the study compared with 81 (72% with diabetic ESRD) in the previous 14 years. All 137 of the diabetic subjects received haemodialysis. During the 21-year study period, 79 of the diabetic subjects receiving dialysis died. The median survival after the onset of haemodialysis was 37 months in the first time period (1982-1988), 47 months in the second period (1989-1995) and 67 months in the third period (1996-2002). The death rate in the first period was 4.3 times (95% CI, 2.1-8.9) as high and the second period was 2.9 times (95% CI, 1.5-5.8) as high as the most recent period, after adjustment for age, sex and ethnicity in a proportional-hazards analysis. The number of diabetic patients in CNMI who are receiving renal replacement therapy is rising rapidly. Considerable improvement in survival after the onset of haemodialysis has occurred over the past 21 years.