Mid-way 2007 reports indicate that many low-income countries, at current rates of progress, are unlikely to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015. In Ethiopia, a decline was observed in under-five mortality rates from 204 to 123 per 1000 live births between 1990 and 2005, showing good progress towards the achievement of MDG4. A downward trend was observed in the maternal mortality ratio; however, because of the high degree of sampling variability, it is not possible to reach any firm conclusion about the possibility of achieving MDG5. Regarding MDG6, good progress was observed in controlling HIV/AIDS and malaria, whereas MDG indicators related to tuberculosis are still below international standards. Therefore, performance was not uniform across programmes. In general, interventions that can be routinely scheduled, such as immunisation, had much higher coverage than those that rely on functional health systems and clinical services proximate to households with 24 h availability, such as skilled care at birth. These mixed results highlight that, although MDGs focus on specific diseases and conditions, targets cannot be achieved without strengthening health systems. It is for this reason that the strategic health plan in Ethiopia is focusing on high-impact and cost-effective health interventions and on health systems strengthening.