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Why Ebola fighters are Time Magazine's 'Person of the Year' (+video)

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(Read caption) Hundreds of doctors, nurses and health workers work every day to treat and contain the outbreak in the hot zone.

The courageous Ebola fighters around the world who are responding to the largest Ebola outbreak in history are Time Magazine's 2014 "Person of the Year," the magazine's editors announced Wednesday morning.

Ebola has now claimed more than 6,000 lives (mostly in West Africa), more than 17,000 people have been diagnosed as infected, and the disease has tested the world's health-care infrastructure. Essentially, Time is paying homage to the brave caregivers, nurses, ambulance drivers, doctors, and health-care workers who rose to this challenge. 

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"For their tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to strengthen its defenses, for the risks they took and the lives they saved, the Ebola fighters are Time's 2014 Person of the Year," Time editor Nancy Gibbs said in a video posted on the magazine's Web site.

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In deciding upon their "Person of the Year," the magazine considers "the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year."

This year's runners-up included pop music artist Taylor Swift, Apple CEO Tim Cook, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma, the Ferguson protesters, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Kurdish leader Massoud Karzani. In 2013, the magazine selected Pope Francis as its Person of the Year.

This year, it picked a group of people rather than one individual, and its choice also cast the spotlight on one of the most pressing global health issues.

The Ebola virus, which first emerged as a problem in the west African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and was declared an outbreak in March of 2014, has ravaged regional economies, as well as testing local and global health systems. As such, it has dominated the headlines for much of the year.

It has also thrown the spotlight on the selfless individuals who have cared for Ebola patients. According to the World Health Organization, 622 health-care workers are known to have been infected with Ebola through the end of November; 346 of them have died. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence rate of Ebola cases in Sierra Leone is about 100 times higher for health-care workers than it was for other people in the country.

And yet, they continue to fight the virus.

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"Ask what drove them and some talk about God; some about country; some about the instinct to run into the fire, not away," writes Time Magazine. "'If someone from America comes to help my people, and someone from Uganda,' says Iris Martor, a Liberian nurse, 'then why can’t I?'"

Adds Foday Gallah, an ambulance driver who survived infection, “I am going to fight Ebola with all of my might.”

Sierra Leone doctor Komba Songu-M’briwa, who contracted the disease after treating a fellow Sierra Leone physician (who later died), told the Associated Press that the Ebola field work was "the 'most difficult, most pitiful' work of his life." But he vowed to return to the field to fight the virus. "I don't have regrets because I'm enjoying my job, and I think it's been a blessing to other people."

Asked how surviving Ebola changed him, Dr. Kent Brantly told Time, “[W]henever we go through a devastating experience like what I’ve been through, it is an incredible opportunity for redemption of something. We can say, How can I be better now because of what I’ve been through? To not do that is kind of a shame.”

As such, the Ebola outbreak has been both a source of inspiration and a challenge for the global community, suggests Time Magazine.

"So that is the next challenge," writes Time. "What will we do with what we’ve learned? This was a test of the world’s ability to respond to potential pandemics, and it did not go well. It exposed corruption in African governments along with complacency in Western capitals and jealousy among competing bureaucrats. It triggered mistrust from Monrovia to Manhattan. Each week brought new puzzles."

For inspiration on the road that lies ahead in the fight against Ebola, the magazine points readers once again to its "Person of the Year."

"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."

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