This paper is part of a PLoS Medicine series on maternal, neonatal, and child health in Africa. Click here to read the second paper.
Every year 4.4 million children—including 1.2 million newborns—and 265,000 mothers die in sub-Saharan Africa. This amounts to 13,000 deaths per day or almost nine deaths every minute. Sub-Saharan Africa has half of the world's maternal, newborn, and child deaths.
The five biggest challenges for maternal, newborn, and child health in sub-Saharan Africa are: pregnancy and childbirth complications, newborn illness, childhood infections, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS.
Many scientifically proven health interventions are available for maternal, newborn, and child health such as medicines, immunizations, insecticide-treated bed nets, and equipment for emergency obstetric care. Yet many African governments are currently underutilizing existing scientific knowledge to save women's and children's lives.
A scientific approach based on local epidemiological and coverage data is needed to prioritize the highest impact and most appropriate interventions in a given context.
Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa are behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for maternal and child health by 2015. However, progress in several low-income countries demonstrates that the MDGs could still be attained through immediate strategic investments in selected evidence-based interventions and targeted health systems strengthening. Many countries are at a tipping point and now is the critical time to use local data to set priorities and accelerate action.