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Hypertension is an established major risk factor underlying the epidemic of coronary and cardiovascular diseases in most developed countries, and it has been shown to be a public health problem in many developing countries since the 1970s. This review was carried out to illustrate the current situation with regard to blood pressure levels and the prevalence and management of hypertension in developing countries.A search for papers published in medical journals from 1991 to 1998 was performed using the MEDLINE database. A total of 40 articles were selected according to previously defined criteria.Hypertension is a public health problem for most of the developing countries reviewed, and it is frequently associated with low levels of awareness, treatment and control. A positive association between the gross national product per capita and the prevalence of hypertension in developing countries is also evident.Differences in methodology between national surveys make international comparisons difficult. Nevertheless, low-cost hypertension control programmes in developing countries are needed, along with development of the primary prevention of hypertension.