OBJECTIVE No evidence-based data exist on the availability, accessibility and utilization of healthcare services in Lahej Governorate, Yemen. The aim of this study was to assess the distribution and utilization of curative services in primary healthcare units and centres in Lahej. STUDY DESIGN Cross-sectional study (clustering sample). METHOD This study was conducted in three of the 15 districts in Lahej between December 2009 and August 2010. Household members were interviewed using a questionnaire to determine sociodemographic characteristics and types of healthcare services available in the area. RESULTS The distribution of health centres, health units and hospitals did not match the size of the populations or areas of the districts included in this study. Geographical accessibility was the main obstacle to utilization. Factors associated with the utilization of curative services were significantly related to the time required to reach the nearest facility, seeking curative services during illness and awareness of the availability of health facilities (P < 0.01). CONCLUSION There is an urgent need to look critically and scientifically at the distribution of healthcare services in the region in order to ensure accessibility and quality of services.