The epidemiology of rheumatic musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders in the developing world is much less well known than it is in the developed world. We expect ethnicity, traditions, socioeconomics and lifestyles to have an impact, but overall data are sparse. This report focuses on the WHO-ILAR COPCORD (community-oriented programme for control of rheumatic diseases). COPCORD was designed to collect community data on pain and disability in the developing economies. Several countries in Asia-Pacific and Central South America have completed COPCORD surveys. Despite some limitations in methodology, COPCORD provides a fair estimate of the spectrum and extent of rheumatic MSK disorders. We digress from a general overview to highlight the scenario for rheumatoid arthritis, and draw a few parallels with known statistics from the developed world. Overall, the emerging spectrum and severity are not very different, but in the developing countries the burden of disease, worsened by dismal rheumatology services, is likely to be staggering.