Summary We conducted a population-based survey on five small islands in South Sulawesi Province (Indonesia) to collect baseline data previous to a chemoprophylactic intervention study aiming at interrupting the transmission of Mycobacterium leprae. Here we describe the present leprosy epidemiology on these geographically isolated islands. Of the 4774 inhabitants living in the study area 4140 were screened for leprosy (coverage: 87%). We identified 96 leprosy patients (85 new and 11 old patients), representing a new case detection rate (CDR) of 205/10 000 and a prevalence rate of 195/10 000. CDRs were similar for males and females. Male patients were more often classified as multibacillary (MB) than women. Of the new patients, 33 (39%) were classified as MB, 16 (19%) as paucibacillary (PB) 2–5 lesions and 36 (42%) as PB single lesion. In this area of high leprosy endemicity leprosy patients were extensively clustered, i.e. not equally distributed among the islands and within the islands among the houses.