INTRODUCTION: In most low and middle-income countries, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is on the rise. Areas covered: Unfortunately, COPD is a neglected disease in these countries. Taking sub-Saharan Africa as an example, in rural areas, COPD is even unknown regarding public awareness and public health planning. Programs for the management of COPD are poorly developed, and the quality of care is often of a low standard. Inhaled medication is often not available or not affordable. Tobacco smoking is the most common encountered risk factor for COPD. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, household air pollution is another major risk factor for the development of COPD. Communities are also exposed to a variety of other risk factors, such as low birth weight, malnutrition, severe childhood respiratory infections, occupational exposures, outdoor pollution, human-immunodeficiency virus and tuberculosis. All these factors contribute to the high burden of poor respiratory health in sub-Saharan Africa. Expert commentary: A silent growing epidemic of COPD seems to be unravelling. Therefore, prevention and intervention programs must involve all the stakeholders and start as early as possible. More research is needed to describe, define and inform treatment approaches, and natural history of biomass-related COPD.