The prevalence of vitamin A deficiency among two to ten years old children in a rural area of Mali was assessed by ophthalmic examination, determination of plasma retinol levels and impression cytology with transfer tests. A Public Health problem of vitamin A deficiency was identified in this rural area by: the prevalence of nightblindness significantly (p < 0.001) above the cut-off (1%) defined by the World Health Organization (WHO); the prevalence of corneal scarring significantly (p < 0.001) above the WHO's cut-off (0.05%); the percentage of subjects with plasma retinol levels below 0.35 mumol/l (10 micrograms/dl) significantly (p < 0.001) higher than the WHO's threshold (5%); and 52.8 +/- 8.2% children with "Abnormal" impression cytology as determined by the impression cytology test (IC). This preliminary survey confirmed widespread vitamin A deficiency in Mali. The minimum sample size required for a study using the impression cytology test to determinate a Public Health problem in a population was calculated for different situations. Ophthalmic examination indicated a very high rate of active trachoma (29.6 +/- 7.0%), and a relationship between active trachoma and impression cytology results was identified.