The Millennium Development Goals have galvanized efforts to improve child survival (MDG-4) and maternal health (MDG-5). There has been important progress on both MDGs at global level, although it now appears that few countries will reach them by the target date of 2015. There are known and efficacious interventions to address most of the major causes of these deaths, but important gaps remain. The biggest challenge is to ensure that all women and children have access to life-saving interventions. Current levels of intervention coverage are too low, representing missed opportunities. Providing services at the community level is an important emerging priority, but preventing maternal and neonatal deaths also requires access to health facilities. Readers of the Medicine for Global Health collection in BMC Medicine are urged to make maternal and child health one of their key concerns, even if they work on other topics.