Between 1986 and 1988 a door-to-door survey was conducted on a stable rural population of 60,820 in central Ethiopia. Trained lay health workers made a complete census and identified cases with symptoms and signs of neurological disorders, using specially designed questionnaires which, in a previous pilot study, were found to have a sensitivity of 91% and specificity of 85%. Neurological disorders in the rural population were epilepsy, postpoliomyelitis paralysis, mental retardation, peripheral neuropathy (mainly due to leprosy), and deaf-mutism with prevalence rates (cases/100,000 population) of 520, 240, 170, 150 and 130, respectively. The prevalence rates of the other less common neurological disorders were 62 for hemiparesis (15 of which were for cerebrovascular accidents), 20 for cerebral palsy, 16 for optic atrophy, 12 for perceptive deafness, 10 for tropical spastic paraparesis, 7 for Parkinson's disease and 5 for motor neuron disease, ataxia and chorea/athetosis. Among related non-neurological conditions, blindness, locomotor disability and deafness were predominant. The significance and role of such a neuroepidemiological study in laying the strategies for the prevention of neurological disorders and rehabilitation of patients are discussed in the context of a developing country.