Biobanking pregnancy cohort studies have been well-established in many countries in the global north over the past few decades, as a means of understanding women (and their children’s) health outcomes in pregnancy and beyond. However, many of these health outcomes and biological pathways differ depending on geography, and high-income country data may not generalise to lower-resource settings.

The availability of large-scale biorepositories and technological advances have opened up the possibility of discovery science to better understand adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest burden of these outcomes globally, and the creation of biobanks is a rapidly increasing field of research to support interventions to improve outcomes for women and their children.

We conducted a systematic review to specifically focus and characterise all sub-Saharan African pregnancy cohorts that include biological samples stored for future research. Our findings are novel, as the majority of the cohorts included in this review have been established within the last decade and together provide a rich set of biological samples such as blood, cord blood and placenta, and will aid global health researchers in better understanding disease pathways in African women. However, the majority of these also focus on women who are attending facilities and do not provide long-term maternal-infant follow-up. Future studies which include these most vulnerable populations of women that are unable to attend facilities constitute a priority.

Overall, given the time, resources, and efforts required—by both researchers and participants—to contribute, collect and store biological samples, future projects in this field can offer value by complementing existing cohorts. Further, there is still work to be done, and we found this field would benefit from standardisation, harmonisation, and rapid publication of study protocols to enable data sharing and collaboration, and to ensure samples are used equitably, ethically and to their full capacity, even once the primary objectives of studies have been assessed and completed.

Bone JN, Pickerill K, Woo Kinshella M The PRECISE Network, et al. Pregnancy cohorts and biobanking in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review BMJ Global Health 2020;5:e003716.