Current methods for estimating maternal mortality lack precision, and are not suitable for monitoring progress in the short run. In addition, national maternal mortality ratios (MMRs) alone do not provide useful information on where the greatest burden of mortality is located, who is concerned, what are the causes, and more importantly what sub-national variations occur. This paper discusses a maternal death surveillance and response (MDSR) system. MDSR systems are not yet established in most countries and have potential added value for policy making and accountability and can build on existing efforts to conduct maternal death reviews, verbal autopsies and confidential enquiries. Accountability at national and sub-national levels cannot rely on global, regional and national retrospective estimates periodically generated from academia or United Nations organizations but on routine counting, investigation, sub national data analysis, long term investments in vital registration and national health information systems. Establishing effective maternal death surveillance and response will help achieve MDG 5, improve quality of maternity care and eliminate maternal mortality (MMR ≤ 30 per 100,000 by 2030).