Maternal mortality remains the health statistic for which there is the greatest disparity between developing and developed countries. The risk of stillbirth or neonatal death is also high in developing countries. The inequality of research funding between rich and poor countries is dramatic, with only 10% of research funding directed towards diseases which contribute 90% of the global burden of disease. The need for high-quality, relevant perinatal research in developing countries is compelling. There are many examples of good perinatal research in developing countries. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain and are being tackled. We need better information about maternal and perinatal health, and about performance of the health services, we need more evaluation of what helps and what harms within the existing health services, and we need improved strategies for implementation of research findings.