Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a commonly encountered syndrome associated with various aetiologies and pathophysiological processes leading to decreased kidney function. In addition to retention of waste products, impaired electrolyte homeostasis and altered drug concentrations, AKI induces a generalized inflammatory response that affects distant organs. Full recovery of kidney function is uncommon, which leaves these patients at risk of long-term morbidity and death. Estimates of AKI prevalence range from <1% to 66%. These variations can be explained by not only population differences but also inconsistent use of standardized AKI classification criteria. The aetiology and incidence of AKI also differ between high-income and low-to-middle-income countries. High-income countries show a lower incidence of AKI than do low-to-middle-income countries, where contaminated water and endemic diseases such as malaria contribute to a high burden of AKI. Outcomes of AKI are similar to or more severe than those of patients in high-income countries. In all resource settings, suboptimal early recognition and care of patients with AKI impede their recovery and lead to high mortality, which highlights unmet needs for improved detection and diagnosis of AKI and for efforts to improve care for these patients.