Monitoring of maternal mortality levels in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to assess the achievements of safe motherhood programmes and for MDG-5 has been made difficult because of the lack of precise estimates of the maternal mortality ratio (MMR). Projections based on the slow rate of decline of the MMR indicate that MDG-5 may not be reached before the end of this century in this region. Measurements done using demographical and health surveys, statistical modelling and censuses are imprecise and do not allow trends in individual countries to be established. SSA countries should be encouraged to measure mortality levels from their own resources, using methods that produce precise estimates such as population-based surveys. Establishment of the trends will lead to country-specific program targets. The less frequent but more precise measurements can be afforded by SSA countries, as a case study from Zimbabwe shows.