A population-based study on the prevalence of blindness and low vision was carried out in Jimma Zone, south-western Ethiopia between November 1994 and January 1995. A total of 7423 people from a sample of 8215 (90.4%) was examined. Sixty-three (0.85%) were blind (visual acuity less than 3/60 in the better eye) and 125 people (1.7%) had low vision (less than 6/18-3/60). Cataract and aphakia (52.4%), corneal opacity and phthisis bulbi (25.4%), and glaucoma (9.5%) were the major causes of blindness. Cataract (56.8%), refractive errors (28.8%), and corneal opacity (12.8%) were the major causes of low vision. Corneal opacity from trachoma was responsible for 20.6% of all blindness and 10.4% of low vision. The prevalence of visual impairment due to refractive errors was 5.1/1000 population. Almost 25% of the study population had active trachoma, and 0.9% of pre-school children had signs of vitamin A deficiency. Out of a total population of 2 million an estimated 17,000 people are blind and 34,000 have low vision (i.e., a total of 51,000 people with visual impairment). Approximately 20,000 people require cataract surgery, 52,000 require lid surgery for trichiasis, 24,000 require spectacles (excluding presbyopia), including 10,000 for significant refractive errors, half a million require treatment for active trachoma and 4,000 require glaucoma treatment. Effective and feasible eye care programs need to be established in the zone and the available ophthalmic services have to be strengthened. These may be achievable through joint efforts of the community and the Ministry of Health in collaboration with non-governmental organizations. The available eye services are briefly described and recommendations made to meet the important needs for prevention of blindness in the region.