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The recent systematic review of pregnancy cohorts in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) presented in BMJ Global Health1 highlights an opportunity to build on existing harmonised networks to improve maternal and newborn health across SSA.
Over the past decade I have had the privilege of helping establish incountry biorepositories focused on supporting research to improve maternal and newborn health. The study networks, located in five countries across SSA,2–5 made the strategic decision to harmonise their standard operating procedures (SOPs) and informed consents despite starting years apart and having different funding sources. This enables these networks to potentially pool their samples for large-scale collaborations and to participate in research consortia, such as the Missed Opportunities in Maternal and Infant Health consortium, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to inform prevention of preterm birth, pre-eclampsia and stillbirth. All but one of the collection sites for these studies are based in community settings. The investments made through these studies have strengthened these communities’ ability to conduct high-quality research. Longitudinal pregnancy cohort studies are particularly demanding. Sites must identify and enrol women in the first trimester, obtain a first trimester ultrasound (the gold standard for establishing accurate gestational age) and, in addition to collecting blood and urine from the woman during her pregnancy, collect and process cord blood and placental tissue samples within 30 min of delivery. These required protocols have greatly enhanced overall research capacity in these communities and leave them well positioned to continue to contribute meaningfully to the knowledge base of maternal, early childhood, developmental onset of health and disease, or any other relevant areas of research.
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