One hundred and eighteen missionaries working on 75 mission stations or hospitals in 24 sub-Saharan African countries provided information about their medical practice in the preceding year of 1981. Details were collected of the total number of patients seen and admitted during the year, and the number of cases of bloody diarrhoea, typhoid and inflammatory bowel disease. Over 1 million outpatients and about 190,000 inpatients were treated. These included 12,859 cases of bloody diarrhoea, of whom 1,914 had typhoid. Twenty-two cases of inflammatory bowel disease were also reported. Histological support was least available in West Africa and only 25% of hospitals had access to this facility. Nevertheless, the frequency with which inflammatory bowel disease in sub-Saharan Africa is difficult and limited by access to diagnostic facilities. It is likely to be some time before reliable estimates of the incidence and prevalence of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis in the rural African population can be made.