The general impression is that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has a lower prevalence and a milder course in developing countries. Epidemiological studies from different regions show that varying prevalence is possibly related to urbanization. The data suggest that where severe disability does occur, it presents a significant health challenge because of scarce medical and social resources. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) remain the mainstay of therapy to alter the natural history of the disease. New therapies are unlikely to be of general benefit in the developing world because of financial constraints and increased risk of infections, particularly tuberculosis, associated with the use of tumour necrosis factor-alpha blockers. Instead, future research in poorer communities should be directed at assessing the burden of disease, the role of early aggressive therapy with DMARDs in combination with glucocorticoids for the majority of patients with RA, and finally, sourcing targeted biological therapies through clinical trials and grants for compassionate use in patients with refractory disease.