A total of 721 children in the six schools for the blind in Ethiopia were studied. In 1988-1989 histories were taken to ascertain the predisposing factors and ophthalmological examinations and records were used to determine the causes of blindness. Ninety-five per cent of those examined had bilateral blindness, 12% did not know how they had become blind and, of those who provided information on how they became blind, 21% knew that they were born blind, 30% implicated measles as being responsible, and 13% implicated 'mitch' which is an Amharic term used to describe a very wide range of nonspecific and vague illnesses of which measles probably constitutes a significant proportion. Seventy per cent of the blindness was due to either corneal opacity or phthisis bulbi. Of those with non-congenital bilateral corneal opacity or phthisis bulbi, 40% were preceded by measles and 17% by mitch. A study of 66 adults in the handicraft and skill-training centres attached to the blind schools indicated that the principal predisposing factors of blindness were mitch (30%), smallpox (15%), cataract (12%), and traditional eye medicine (11%). Seventy percent had corneal scars of phthisis bulbi and 14% cataract.