The global Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched in 1987 in response to high levels of maternal deaths in the developing world. A great deal has since been learned about effective and affordable strategies for saving women’s lives during pregnancy and childbirth and about the linkages between maternal and newborn well-being. A number of countries have been able to reduce maternal and newborn deaths by investing in proven, cost-effective interventions and by strengthening health systems. Yet in many countries, women and their newborns continue to die and suffer needlessly.

In January 2004, a broad Partnership for Safe Motherhood and Newborn Health was established to reinvigorate and expand the global Safe Motherhood Initiative. Bringing together multilateral and intergovernmental agencies, donors, health professional associations, NGOs, academic
research institutions, as well as developing countries, the Partnership aims to strengthen and expand maternal and newborn health efforts within the broader goals of poverty reduction, equity and human rights; it aims particularly to address the enormous health disparities that exist between urban and rural populations and between rich and poor. Building on the MDGs on child mortality and maternal health, the Partnership seeks to create synergy among the many stakeholders working to assure the right to safe pregnancy outcomes. Two key priorities of the Partnership are: to ensure that safe motherhood and newborn health are addressed in national development plans, sector-wide approaches, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and other resource allocation mechanisms at the country-level; and to advocate for greater attention to, funding for and action on safe motherhood and newborn health at the global level.

In February 2004, the Latin American and Caribbean Task Force on Maternal Mortality Reduction, which includes such organizations as WHO, the World Bank, UNICEF and UNFPA, as well as a number of non-UN partners, adopted a joint statement on maternal mortality. The statement identified strategies, priorities and a combination of interventions, including legal and policy changes; an essential package for ensuring skilled attendants and emergency obstetric care; a strong participation of communities in demanding quality care; and monitoring and financial mechanisms on reproductive health, such as the inclusion of maternal mortality in national plans and budgets. The Regional Task Force has helped build commitment to safe motherhood within its member agencies and increased intra-agency support for best practices. It has also provided opportunities for collaboration among its members in other areas. These positive processes are being replicated at both regional and national levels.

The African Road Map for the Attainment of the Millennium Development Goals related to Maternal and Newborn Health, adopted by the African Union, is supported by WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF and a broad range of governmental and non-governmental partners. The Road Map aims to provide skilled attendance during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period, at all levels of the health care system, and to strengthen the capacity of individuals, families, communities, civil society organizations and governments to improve maternal and newborn health. The main strategies of the Road Map include: improving the provision of and access to quality maternal and newborn health care, including family planning services; strengthening district health planning and the referral system; advocating for increased commitment and resources for maternal and newborn health and family planning; fostering partnerships; and empowering communities, particularly women.