The aim of this study was to compare the responses of colistin treatment alone vs. a combination of colistin and rifampicin in the treatment of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) caused by a carbapenem-resistant A. baumannii strain. Forty-three patients were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups. Although clinical (P = 0·654), laboratory (P = 0·645), radiological (P = 0·290) and microbiological (P = 0·597) response rates were better in the combination group, these differences were not significant. However, time to microbiological clearance (3·1 ± 0·5 days, P = 0·029) was significantly shorter in the combination group. The VAP-related mortality rates were 63·6% (14/22) and 38·1% (8/21) for the colistin and the combination groups (P = 0·171), respectively. Our results suggest that the combination of colistin with rifampicin may improve clinical and microbiological outcomes of VAP patients infected with A. baumannii.