The Commonwealth is calling on the United States to end its lone holdout against a World Trade Organization agreement on supplying AIDS medications to poor countries.

At the center of the issue are patent rights and research incentives. Secretary-General Don McKinnon says, ?143 out of 144 countries cannot be wrong? and says, ?Millions of lives could be saved if the United States joined this powerful humanitarian consensus.? The Commonwealth has fifty-four member countries, with a combined population of one-point-seven billion.

It says it is not trying to block pharmaceutical firms from making a profit on their medications. Mr. McKinnon says, ?We recognize the value of patents to those who spend considerable resources, time and energy in research and development. But a better balance is certainly needed between the ownership of patents and the need for worldwide availability of affordable medicines.?

The Office of the US Trade Representative has issued a statement on the matter, saying it had an ?immediate practical solution to allow African and other developing countries to gain greater access to pharmaceuticals when facing public health crises.? However, it says, ?Some WTO members and advocacy organizations sought to expand the targeted ?poor country epidemic? focus of Doha (the WTO Ministerial Meeting) to allow much wealthier countries to override a wide range of drug patents, for example, Viagra.?

It says the United States will continue to work to find a solution. In the meantime, it will implement the Doha Declaration by pledging not to challenge any WTO member that breaks ?WTO rules to export drugs produced under compulsory license to a country in need.?

English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with James Robertson, acting spokesperson for the Commonwealth-Secretariat about the US position. Click above links to hear interview.