AIMS/BACKGROUND: Use of African traditional eye medicines (TEM) is associated with the presence of corneal disease, delay in presentation, and vision loss. An interactive training programme was conducted with traditional healers in Chikwawa District, Malawi and changes in the pattern of corneal disease assessed in patients presenting to the district hospital after the training. METHODS: All patients presenting to the district hospital with corneal disease for a 15 month period before intervention and a 12 month period after intervention were enrolled in the study. Interviews and examinations were carried out by the same person using a standardised, pretested form. RESULTS: Among the 175 pre-intervention and 97 post-intervention patients, delay in presentation improved only slightly. Blindness among patients reporting the use of TEM decreased from 44% to 21%; bilateral corneal disease in patients using TEM decreased from 31% to 10%. Multivariate analysis demonstrates that poor vision in corneal disease patients continues to be associated with TEM use and distance from the district hospital. CONCLUSION: As there were no other relevant eye health programmes in the district it is believed that this collaborative eye care programme with the traditional healers was likely to have been responsible for many of the changes in the pattern of corneal disease in the district. Although the changing patterns are encouraging and are likely to improve with additional collaboration, distance to a district hospital will continue to be a barrier to timely use of Western eye care services.