The aim of this study was to investigate safety and impact of temporary external lumbar drainage for continuous release of cerebrospinal fluid among patients with HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis and elevated intracranial pressure (ICP). We conducted a retrospective cohort study among patients with cryptococcal meningitis in whom temporary external lumbar drains were placed to reduce intractable elevated ICP between January 2002 and December 2005. Patients were followed for three months after the procedure. Among 601 HIV-infected patients with cryptococcal meningitis, 54 (8.9%) underwent lumbar drain placement. Of these patients, mean age was 33 years and 80% were males. The median duration of an indwelling lumbar drain was seven days. There were 61 placement procedures among 54 patients, totalling to 473 device-days of observation. Overall incidence of secondary bacterial infections was 6.3 per 1000 device-days, and three (4.9%) of 61 catheters became secondarily infected with nosocomially acquired bacteria. All three drains were removed and appropriate antibiotics were given. There was no difference in median duration of placement between infected and uninfected drains (six days vs. seven days, P = 0.572). The overall mortality rate was 5.6% in this cohort of 54 patients. In conclusion, the incidence of nosocomial infection of external lumbar drains is low. In resource-limited settings, the use of temporary external lumbar drainage is a safe and effective management strategy for intractable elevated ICP in HIV-infected patients with cryptococcal meningitis.