Souza, J. and on behalf of the WHO Multicountry Survey on Maternal and Newborn Health Research Network (2014), The World Health Organization Multicountry Survey on Maternal and Newborn Health project at a glance: the power of collaboration. BJOG: Int J Obstet Gy, 121: v–viii. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12690
In the early 2000s, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated an ambitious research project aimed at establishing a global network of health facilities providing maternity services. This network would not only enable WHO to generate knowledge related to maternal and perinatal health at the global level, but also aimed to foster collaboration and strengthen research capacity across the world. Between 2004 and 2008, the first round of research was implemented in 24 countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The 2004–2008 Global Survey on Maternal and Perinatal Health resulted in a strong worldwide collaboration that produced over 25 research papers, several local and global policy briefs, and a number of master’s and doctorates at various universities around the world.
Considering the success of the Global Survey project and the network’s momentum and motivation, preparations for a second round of research were initiated in 2008. The project steering committee, together with the project coordinators at the country and regional levels, opted to focus on issues related to severe maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality, and to expand the network. Through a participatory process, a research protocol was developed and, between May 2010 and December 2011, data collection for the Multicountry Survey on Maternal and Newborn Health (WHOMCS) was implemented in 359 hospitals from 29 countries located in five WHO regions (i.e. Africa, the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, South East Asia, and the Western Pacific).
The WHOMCS included over 314 000 women and their newborn infants. It is the largest study to date assessing the management of severe maternal complications and the prevalence of maternal near miss. Figure 1 shows the individual countries that participated in the WHOMCS. Implementing a study of this magnitude was a considerable challenge. Internal challenges included, for instance, a relatively small budget and the need to standardise research processes across all research sites. External challenges involved major events such as civil unrest, armed conflict, labour strikes, and disease outbreaks that affected the implementation of the project in some countries; however, the motivation of over 1500 collaborators and the essential contribution of several WHO offices, partners, and donors led to the successful completion of this project.