South Africa is one of the few developing countries with a national confidential inquiry into maternal deaths. 164 health facilities obtain audit data for stillbirths and neonatal deaths, and a new audit network does so for child deaths. Three separate reports have been published, providing valuable information about avoidable causes of death for mothers, babies, and children. These reports make health-system recommendations, many of which overlap and are intertwined with the scarcity of progress in addressing HIV/AIDS. The leaders of these three reports have united to prioritise actions to save the lives of South Africa’s mothers, babies, and children.
The country is off-track for the health-related Millennium Development Goals. Mortality in children younger than 5 years has increased, whereas maternal and neonatal mortality remain constant. This situation indicates the challenge of strengthening the health system because of high inequity and HIV/AIDS. Coverage of services is fairly high, but addressing the gaps in quality and equity is essential to increasing the number of lives saved. Consistent leadership and accountability to address crosscutting health system and equity issues, and to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, would save tens of thousands of lives every year. Audit is powerful, but only if the data lead to action.