In 2008, the Countdown to 2015 initiative identified 68 priority countries for action on maternal, newborn, and child health. Much attention was paid to monitoring country-level progress in achieving high and equitable coverage with interventions effective in reducing mortality of mothers, newborn infants, and children up to 5 years of age. To have a broader understanding of the environment in which health services are delivered and health outcomes are produced is essential to increase intervention coverage. Programmes to address MNCH rely on health systems to generate information needed for effective decisions and to achieve the expected outcomes. Governance and leadership are needed throughout the process not only to create policies and implement them but also to assure quality and efficiency of care, to finance health services sufficiently and in an equitable way, and to manage the health workforce. We present a systematic approach to assess the wider health system and policy environment needed to achieve positive outcomes for maternal, newborn, and child health. We report on results from 13 indicators and show gaps in policy adoption as well as weaknesses in other health system building blocks. We identify areas for future action in measurement of key indicators and their use to support decision making. We hope that this information will provide an additional dimension to the discussions on feasible and sustainable solutions to accelerate progress towards Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, both at the global level but most importantly in individual countries.