Nigeria has pledged to prevent at least a million deaths of women and children by 2015 by improving access to cheap medicines and interventions set out by the United Nations.
President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to launch Save One Million Lives initiative this Tuesday.
The pledge follows a UN report which listed 13 commodities that could save some six million lives by 2015 as well as 10 recommendations to improve access.
Director of the UN Population Fund, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, has called for African countries seeking to implement the UN recommendations to focus on persons younger than 30 years, who make up 60% of their populations.
Addressing delegates from Rwanda, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone as the meeting opened in Abuja Sunday, Osotimehin said: "It is important that the health, education, and reproductive health of these 60% must be front and centre of the agenda."
He noted they would determine the extent of success of achieving Millennium Development Goals, adding, "I don't see how we can be talking about gender equality when women are still dying" from preventable causes.
Minister of state for health Muhammad Pate said a priority of SOML would be to address equity by "reallocating and improving the efficiency of our spending."
"We need to shift spending to basic interventions that can save lives," he emphasised.
$200 million plan
The recommendations call for countries to have pooled their procurement and demand for the life-saving commodities in order to ensure optimal price and volume by next year.
They also call for innovations in financing the commodities and efficiency in regulation by 2015.
Health ministers from Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, the DRC, and Sierra Leone are meeting for the first time in Abuja to seek ways of implementing the recommendations.
Implementing the plans is estimated to cost $200 million over the next three years, excluding the cost of purchasing the commodities, according to the UN.
The recommendations were contained in a September report submitted by President Goodluck Jonathan and Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, both co-chairs of the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities.
The recommendations lists 13 commodities, including:
Oxytocin and misoprostol to prevent and treat bleeding after birth, which is thought to be a leading of cause death among pregnant women
Magnesium sulphate to prevent eclampsia
Injectable antibiotics to treat infection in newborns
Chlorhexidine to prevent infection of umbilical cords at birth
Amoxicillin tablets to treat childhood pneumonia
Zinc and oral rehydration solutions to treat diarrhoeal diseases
"These are not new drugs," Osotimehin explained at a press briefing Sunday.
"But what we find is that in most countries, the supply chain system is weak."
He added countries needed "political will to ensure you provide the drugs to buy, make sure they are distributed, make sure they are tracked, make sure that people use them."
UN resident coordinator in Nigeria, Daouda Toure, declared the UN is "ready to work to bring this critical initiative to the people who stand to benefit from the recommendations."
Nigeria's implementation plans, to be finalised Tuesday, will focus on ensuring more children and women have access to the drugs.
Oral rehydration solutions and zinc alone could save the lives of up to 1.89 million children aged under five globally in the next five years, according to the UN.
But only one in four children in Nigeria has access to oral rehydration salts, said Osotimehin.
And 70,000 children annually are born positive to HIV, a transmission that can be prevented.