The Kombewa Health and Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS) grew out of the Kombewa Clinical Research Centre in 2007 and has since established itself as a platform for the conduct of regulated clinical trials, nested studies and local disease surveillance. The HDSS is located in a rural part of Kisumu County, Western Kenya, and covers an area of about 369 km2 along the north-eastern shores of Lake Victoria. A dynamic cohort of 141 956 individuals drawn from 34 718 households forms the HDSS surveillance population. Following a baseline survey in 2011, the HDSS continues to monitor key population changes through routine biannual household surveys. The intervening period between set-up and baseline census was used for preparatory work, in particular Global Positioning System (GPS) mapping. Routine surveys capture information on individual and households including residency, household relationships, births, deaths, migrations (in and out) and causes of morbidity (syndromic incidence and prevalence) as well as causes of death (verbal autopsy). The Kombewa HDSS platform is used to support health research activities, that is clinical trials and epidemiological studies evaluating diseases of public health importance including malaria, HIV and global emerging infectious diseases such as dengue fever. Formal data request and proposed collaborations can be submitted at Kombewadssdata@usamru-k.org.