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Why Health Workers Are TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year

Since March, they’ve been on the front lines of a terrifying epidemic.

Hundreds from their ranks have died.

They’ve been attacked, blamed, and contravened by the very people they want to help. But many still show up for work every day, at great personal risk, to fight an epidemic that has decimated West African communities and ravaged their national health systems. Today TIME magazine announced that Ebola Fighters are its choice for 2014’s Person of the YearThe editors couldn’t have made a better choice. 

Their efforts to contain a deadly, highly infectious disease will likely save millions of lives.

Health workers who treat Ebola victims deserve thanks and recognition not only from their own communities, but from the world. Their efforts to contain a deadly, highly infectious disease will likely save millions of lives.TIME editor Nancy Gibbs writes:Ask what drove them and some talk about God; some about country; some about the instinct to run into the fire, not away. “If someone from America comes to help my people, and someone from Uganda,” says Iris Martor, a Liberian nurse, “then why can’t I?”

Foday Gallah, an ambulance driver who survived infection, calls his immunity a holy gift. “I want to give my blood so a lot of people can be saved,” he says. “I am going to fight Ebola with all of my might.”

If Ebola has done one thing for the good of global health, it’s that it has shone a spotlight on frontline health workers and their vital role in disease response and prevention. Because health workers everywhere—not only in Ebola-affected countries—risk infection and suffer shortages of equipment, long hours, and stressful crises every day.

And we must not forget what they do for the good of us all.

Today at a US Senate committee hearing, the Honorable Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Pape Gaye, president and CEO of IntraHealth International, will join other leaders in addressing the Senate with guidance on the international response to Ebola. Watch the hearing.

“Let there be no misunderstanding,” Gaye says in his written testimony. “If health workforce deficiencies do not get the high-level political attention the issue sorely needs and it continues to languish as a global health policy afterthought, this Ebola outbreak will continue to threaten both global health security and the tremendous progress the United States has helped to lead in saving women’s and children’s lives and fighting diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.”

We can help health workers end the Ebola epidemic now and forever. Learn how.

Also read: IntraHealth’s special coverage on Ebola