Rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases (RMDs) represent a multitude of degenerative, inflammatory and auto-immune conditions affecting millions of people worldwide. Persons with these diseases may potentially experience severe chronic pain, joint damage, increasing disability and even death. With an increasingly ageing population, the prevalence and burden of RMDs are predicted to increase, placing greater demands on the global practice of rheumatology and related healthcare budgets. Effective treatment of RMDs currently faces a number of challenges in both the developed and developing world, and individual countries may face more specific local challenges. However, limited understanding of the burden of RMDs amongst public health professionals and policy-makers means that these diseases are often not considered a public health priority. The objective of this review is to increase awareness of the RMDs and to identify opportunities to address RMD challenges on both a local and global scale. On 26 September 2014, rheumatology experts from five different continents met at the World Forum on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (WFRMD) to discuss and identify some key challenges for the RMDs community today. The outcomes are presented in this review, focusing on access to rheumatology services, diagnostics and therapies, rheumatology education and training and on clinical trials, as well as investigator-initiated and epidemiological research. The long-term vision of the WFRMD is to increase perception of the RMDs as a major burden to society and to explore potential opportunities to improve global and local RMD care.