"The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight." That's why TIME named Ebola Fighters as the Person of the Year 2014, according to the magazine's managing editor, Nancy Gibbs.
Along with death and destruction in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014 produced heroes - aid workers at the forefront of the battle. In the face of high risks and few resources, local and international health-care professionals rose to the challenge of treating an illness that has no cure.
Though first-responders received scant attention at the onset of the outbreak, organizations like Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Samaritan’s Purse took the initiative to tackle the crisis. Without their efforts, the crisis would no doubt have been far worse. And the limited outbreaks in countries like Nigeria, Spain, and the United States would like have been far more widespread.
The global health system is nowhere close to strong enough to keep us safe from infectious disease - Nancy Gibbs
In the worst-affected countries, the unanticipated outbreak quickly overwhelmed weak health-care infrastructures. Governments relied on doctors, nurses, ambulance attendants, and burial service practitioners to do what they were not equipped to do - and many became Ebola victims themselves. Large numbers did not survive. Those who did survive say that their determination to help those in need has only been strengthened.
Dr. Kent Brantlly, a physician with Samaritan’s Purse, told TIME that surviving Ebola has given him “an incredible opportunity for redemption,” and that it would be shameful not to continue his work in Monrovia, Liberia. Foday Gallah, a medical student and ambulance supervisor in Monrovia who also survived Ebola, said: “I am going to fight Ebola with all of my might.”
Reaction to the choice on social media has been generally positive. On Twitter, the official UNICEF account responded with "Thrilled #Ebola fighters, some of the world's biggest heroes, are @TIME's Person of The Year 2014." Doctors Without Borders, the U.S. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) affiliate welcome the recognition for their staff adding “much work still to be done.”
Laura Seay, an assistant professor at Colby College, who tweets as @texasinafrica , called the reflection of Ebola-fighting doctors quoted by TIME as 'must reads'. She highlighted a section from the reflections of Dr. Mosoka Fallah, described by TIME as "an American-educated Liberian infectious-disease expert who returned to his country last year to help establish a school of public health and now leads the effort to find, monitor and isolate the contacts of Ebola victims." The excerpt: "We were left alone. I have to say that. I always say that in July and August we lost a good window of opportunity. If they had come in with the ambulances and the tents, we could have averted a lot of death. If everyone had rushed in and built another [treatment unit]. They took such a long time to be built. Meanwhile, people were dying. The bodies would accumulate in the street. The burial teams would go someplace for burial and they would be chased out."
The reflections of these doctors fighting Ebola are must-reads - Laura Seay
Another doctor and one of the minority of those infected to survive, Dr. Phillip Ireland, shared this from his near-death experience: "That night was the worst night at ETU. I had 46 episodes of diarrhea and 26 episodes of vomiting. I was in a sea of mess. The next day there was this physician’s assistant—I will never forget him. His act of love towards me, to wash me, was so much so that I will never forget it in my entire life. He cleaned me totally. He dressed me, put me in a clean bed. And I felt that was so, so, so nice. I really appreciated that. I felt so relieved."
Also on Twitter, AllAfrica's Tami Hultman noted that the selection "includes brave Africans, as many media stories do not" and added: "Not all details right but very welcome." CNN's Isha Sesay reacted: "Rightly so! These people are nothing short of super heroes! #Ebola"
"includes brave Africans, as many media stories do not" - Tami Hultman
Many Ebola fighters are met with fear when returning to their communities after their volunteer service. A Tweet from the Daily Show quipped that Ebola fighters could also be dubbed "Least Hugged Person Of The Year." MSF nurse Kaci Hickox was quarantined upon returning to Newark from Sierra Leone though she tested negative for Ebola and has no symptoms. She said in the TIME article: “the one thing we can do to protect the population is to stop the outbreak in West Africa,” rather than “spending so much time having this debate about how to safely monitor people coming back from Ebola-endemic countries.”
"Ebola is a war, and a warning," editor Nancy Gibbs wrote. "The global health system is nowhere close to strong enough to keep us safe from infectious disease, and 'us' means everyone, not just those in faraway places where this is one threat among many that claim lives every day."