Rapid progress towards the development of rotavirus vaccines has prompted a reassessment of the disease burden of rotavirus diarrhoea in developing countries and the possible impact of these vaccines in reducing diarrhoeal morbidity and mortality among infants and young children. We examined the epidemiology and disease burden of rotavirus diarrhoea among hospitalized and clinic patients in African countries through a review of 43 published studies of the etiology of diarrhoea. The studies were carried out from 1975 through 1992, and only those in which a sample of more than 100 patients with diarrhoea were specifically screened for rotavirus by using an established diagnostic test were included. Rotavirus was detected in a median of 24% of children hospitalized for diarrhoea and in 23% who were treated as outpatients; 38% of the hospitalized patients with rotavirus were < 6 months and 81% were < 1 year of age. Rotavirus was detected year-round in nearly every country and generally exhibited distinct seasonal peaks during the dry months. In 5 countries where rotavirus strains had been G-typed, 74% of strains were of one of the four common serotypes (G1 to G4), G1 was the predominant serotype, and 26% were non-typeable. This cumulative experience from 15 African countries suggests that rotavirus is the most important cause of severe diarrhoea in African children and that most strains in circulation today belong to common G types that are included in reassortant vaccines. Wherever large numbers of cases of rotavirus diarrhoea occur early in infancy, immunization at birth may protect the children before their first symptomatic infection.