Introduction Ethiopia introduced national Maternal Death Surveillance and Response (MDSR) in 2013 and is among the first sub-Saharan African countries to capture data on facility-based and community-based maternal deaths. We interviewed frontline MDSR implementers about their experiences of the first 2 years of MDSR, including perceptions of its introduction and outcomes for health services.
Methods We conducted a qualitative case study in 4 zones in the largest regions, interviewing 69 key informants from regional, zonal, district and facility levels.
Results A defining feature of Ethiopia's MDSR system is its integration within existing disease surveillance, with both benefits and challenges. Facilitators of the system's introduction were strong political support, alignment with broader health strategies and strong links across health system departments. Barriers included confusion around new responsibilities, high staff turnover and fear of legal repercussions. Stakeholders believed MDSR increased confidence in using local data to improve maternal health services and enhanced communication across the health system.
Conclusions MDSR systems take time to establish, encountering challenges in early implementation. Ensuring MDSR has a clear purpose, explicitly defined roles and responsibilities, and adequate supervisory support from the start will ensure it becomes embedded within the health system as routine practice rather than perceived as a stand-alone system. Countries planning to adopt or extend MDSR can learn from Ethiopia's experience, particularly the decision to make maternal mortality a weekly reportable condition within Public Health Emergency Management.
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