Saying they “risked and persisted, sacrificed and saved lives,” Time magazine selected Ebola health care workers as its Person of the Year for 2014.
A list of runners-up includes Ferguson protesters:“Their refusal to let a life be forgotten turned a local shooting into a national movement.” Other runners-up include Russian President Vladimir Putin, President of Iraq’s Kurdistan RegionMassoud Barzani and Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropistJack Ma.
But 2014 is the year an outbreak turned into an epidemic, powered by the very progress that has paved roads and raised cities and lifted millions out of poverty. This time it reached crowded slums in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone; it traveled to Nigeria and Mali, to Spain, Germany and the U.S. It struck doctors and nurses in unprecedented numbers, wiping out a public-health infrastructure that was weak in the first place. One August day in Liberia, six pregnant women lost their babies when hospitals couldn’t admit them for complications. Anyone willing to treat Ebola victims ran the risk of becoming one.
First responders were accused of crying wolf, even as the danger grew. But the people in the field, the special forces of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Christian medical-relief workers of Samaritan’s Purse and many others from all over the world fought side by side with local doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and burial teams.
Amber Vinson and Nina Pham, nurses who cared for the first Ebola patient in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas, are just two names among many who participated in the global fight against the disease. Both became infected while treating Duncan, and were later cured.
The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight. For tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving, the Ebola fighters are TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year.