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Preterm births (PTB) are the leading cause of neonatal deaths, the majority of which occur in low- and middle-income countries, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Understanding the epidemiology of prematurity is an essential step towards tackling the challenge of PTB in the sub-continent. We performed a scoping review of the burden, predictors and outcomes of PTB in SSA. We searched PubMed, Embase, and three other databases for articles published from the database inception to 10 July 2021. Studies reporting the prevalence of PTB, the associated risk factors, and/or its outcomes were eligible for inclusion in this review. Our literature search identified 4441 publications, but only 181 met the inclusion criteria. Last menstrual period (LMP) was the most commonly used method of estimating gestational age. The prevalence of PTB in SSA ranged from 3.4% to 49.4%. Several risk factors of PTB were identified in this review. The most frequently reported risk factors (i.e., reported in ≥10 studies) were previous history of PTB, underutilization of antenatal care (<4 visits), premature rupture of membrane, maternal age (≤20 or ≥35 years), inter-pregnancy interval, malaria, HIV and hypertension in pregnancy. Premature babies had high rates of hospital admissions, were at risk of poor growth and development, and were also at a high risk of morbidity and mortality. There is a high burden of PTB in SSA. The true burden of PTB is underestimated due to the widespread use of LMP, an unreliable and often inaccurate method for estimating gestational age. The associated risk factors for PTB are mostly modifiable and require an all-inclusive intervention to reduce the burden and improve outcomes in SSA.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Environ Res Public Health

Publication Date





Sub-Saharan Africa, burden, outcomes, preterm births, risk factors, scoping review, Adult, Female, Gestational Age, Humans, Infant, Low Birth Weight, Infant, Newborn, Pregnancy, Premature Birth, Prenatal Care, Risk Factors