My primary impulse to write an article on HIV/AIDS came from my fundamental desire to contribute and to collaborate. I realize that my behaviour is founded upon a deeply-rooted sense of duty, a strong commitment, and a profound necessity. Psychologists refer to attitude as the disposition of a person confronting the world (the psychological view), which, once transported to a social setting, becomes values (the sociological view).
In this respect, therefore, allow me to coin the term "individual global responsibility:" a concept which embodies the attitude of an individual who, as a global citizen, demonstrates a profound sense of respect for human rights and dignity. Indeed, acting with individual global responsibility implies feeling an intense ethical and moral obligation to take positive action, starting with the understanding that in the world there are fellow human beings who are suffering and who have a right to be helped and supported. To be a global citizen means being aware of this obligation and this right.
It is impossible not to feel anger, indignation, or rage when witnessing human suffering in any form. The individual global responsibility incites to rebellion and action which, in turn, must be transformed into an ethical and moral obligation to help those who suffer from hunger, extreme poverty, lack of education, all forms of discrimination (sex, colour, race, religion, social or political status), as well as those who have suffered a cataclysm, or are faced with certain death due to neglect of care, lack of resources, lack of information, or endemic structural corruption.
I am not, by any means, discounting social mechanisms of solidarity. On the contrary, I am advocating for their intensification and consolidation. Indeed, countries have shown efficiency in their organized response to catastrophes -- the fight against HIV/AIDS is a clear example and deserves credit.1
Yet, social actions alone are not enough: commitment must stem from a deeply-rooted desire in each and every one of us, for it is impossible to forget the irrational clamour for eugenics during the 1980s, and the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS due to previous experiences with diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis, and cancer. And how could we forget all the myths surrounding the horrible ways by which those suffering from HIV/AIDS died? How could we forget the segregation and isolation forced upon those suffering from the disease? How could we forget the physical attacks carried out against HIV/AIDS sufferers and their relatives, who were singled out because of the presumption that they, too, were infected?
When one talks of HIV/AIDS it is implied that one talks of hunger and extreme poverty, discrimination, human rights, injustice and structural inequity, gender contempt, social inequalities between persons and communities, structural endemic corruption, life expectancy, and death. Combating HIV/AIDS implies considering life as an essential asset of freedom, as an inalienable human right.
The fight against HIV/AIDS is complex and systemic: scientific, educational, cultural, and political aspects are intrinsically involved. Science alone is not enough, even though it has drastically reduced mother-to-child transmission, and developed antiretroviral prophylaxis that have increased life expectancy from one hundred days to forty years is a remarkable scientific achievement. Education has helped to address prevention, but merely focusing on prevention makes one forget other important life-saving aspects. Treatment and prevention need to be global, accessible, and must have a multicultural compatibility. Prevention is effective only when treatments are available, otherwise it leads to discouragement and demoralization. Often, treatment is ineffective because culturally different patients are unaware of the concept of time, and consequently they do not know how to administrate the doses in a proper manner.2 Frequently, due to government inertia or structural endemic corruption, treatment is useless because of lack or waste of resources for the patient.3
Acting with individual global responsibility means going beyond mere empathy, for it entails working actively, on an individual basis, to defeat the disease and to close the gap of inequality and exclusion. Acting with individual social responsibility means to empower communities oppressed by the disease, and to change stigma and discrimination into solidarity and inclusion; to make decisions denoting an indelible commitment to humanity; and to ethically denounce and reverse any human suffering.
As an individual, you choose to work actively by waging a frontal attack against hunger, poverty, and inequalities, which represent the causes fuelling this particular pandemic. Individual attitudes and actions constitute a new form of global action which seeks decent answers to human suffering. Future generations will judge us by how we have reacted to a crisis which has challenged our scientific community and evidenced the scope and limits of our ethical and moral world. It is time to grasp the value of humanity as global citizens and awaken our individual global responsibility. Notes 1 See: UN; UNAIDS; UNICEF; UN Millennium Declaration; UN Millenniun Development Goals; UN Academic Impact. 2 To be effective, antirretroviral compliance therapy should be administered several doses per day, at certain times. In many African countries the people have not the concept of time we have in our western culture: many of them have not seen a clock in their lives. 3 The world´s poorest communities are those that actually bear the brunt of the fight against HIV/AIDS.