They risked and persisted, sacrificed and saved. Editor Nancy Gibbs explains why the Ebola Fighters are TIME's choice for Person of the Year 2014
Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, says the proverb, but rather the hero’s heart.
Maybe this is true in any battle; it is surely true of a war that is waged with bleach and a prayer.
For decades, Ebola haunted rural African villages like some mythic monster that every few years rose to demand a human sacrifice and then returned to its cave. It reached the West only in nightmare form, a Hollywood horror that makes eyes bleed and organs dissolve and doctors despair because they have no cure.
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.
Which brings us to the hero’s heart. There was little to stop the disease from spreading further. Governments weren’t equipped to respond; the World Health Organization was in denial and snarled in red tape. 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.
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.”
MSF nurse’s assistant Salome Karwah stayed at the bedsides of patients, bathing and feeding them, even after losing both her parents—who ran a medical clinic—in a single week and surviving Ebola herself. “It looked like God gave me a second chance to help others,” she says. Tiny children watched their families die, and no one could so much as hug them, because hugs could kill. “You see people facing death without their loved ones, only with people in space suits,” says MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu. “You should not die alone with space-suit men.”
Those who contracted the disease encountered pain like they had never known. “It hurts like they are busting your head with an ax,” Karwah says. One doctor overheard his funeral being planned. Asked if surviving Ebola changed him, Dr. Kent Brantly turns the question around. “I still have the same flaws that I did before,” he says. “But whenever 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.”
So that is the next challenge: 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. How do you secure a country, beyond taking passengers’ temperatures at the airport? Who has the power to order citizens to stay home, to post a guard outside their door? What will it take to develop treatments for diseases largely confined to poor nations, even as this Ebola outbreak had taken far more lives by mid-October than all the earlier ones combined?
The death in Dallas of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed on U.S. soil, and the infection of two nurses who treated him, shook our faith in the ability of U.S. hospitals to handle this kind of disease. From there the road to full freak-out was a short one. An Ohio middle school closed because an employee had flown on the same plane as one of Duncan’s nurses. Not the same flight, just the same plane. A Texas college rejected applicants from Nigeria, since that country had some “confirmed Ebola cases.” A Maine schoolteacher had to take a three-week leave because she went to a teachers’ conference in Dallas. Fear, too, was global. When a nurse in Spain contracted Ebola from a priest, Spanish authorities killed her dog as a precaution, while #VamosAMorirTodos (We’re all going to die) trended on Twitter. Guests at a hotel in Macedonia were trapped in their rooms for days after a British guest got sick and died. Turned out to have nothing to do with Ebola.
The problem with irrational responses is that they can cloud the need for rational ones. Just when the world needed more medical volunteers, the price of serving soared. When nurse Kaci Hickox, returning from a stint with MSF in Sierra Leone with no symptoms and a negative blood test, was quarantined in a tent in Newark, N.J., by a combustible governor, it forced a reckoning. “It is crazy we are spending so much time having this debate about how to safely monitor people coming back from Ebola-endemic countries,” says Hickox, “when the one thing we can do to protect the population is to stop the outbreak in West Africa.”
Ebola is a war, and a warning. 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. 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.
Dr. Fadipe Akinniyi Emmanuel, Ebola survivor, shows the daily dose of oral
rehydration salts, or ORS, he and other survivors took to survive in Nigeria.
(Photographer: Andrew Esiebo/World Health Organization via Bloomberg)
“ .. The Role of Gaia in Human Consciousness
One of those times might be frightening for you to know about, since it was a full cooperation with Gaia for your termination, and a pandemic almost wiped humanity off the map. A pandemic! Now, you say, "What has that got to do with Human consciousness, Kryon?" Pay attention, dear ones, because this is the day where the teaching was given by my partner, and he put together the Nine Human Attributes. One of the attribute sets included three Gaia attributes and one of them was the consciousness of the planet. Gaia is related to Human consciousness!
Are you starting to connect the dots? You are connected to this planet in a profound and spiritual way. As goes humanity goes the planet's consciousness. Gaia, Mother Nature, whatever you want to call it, cooperates with Human consciousness. If you spend 1,000 years killing each other, then Gaia will do its best to cooperate with your desires! Gaia will look at Human consciousness and try to help with what you have shown you like to do! Did you know this role of Gaia with you? It's a partner with you, fast tracking what you give to it. You may wish to review what the indigenous of the planet still understand. Gaia is a partner!
Pandemic: Don't you find it odd that in the last 50 years, when you have a population of seven billion Human Beings, with up to 2,000 airplanes in the air at any given moment, going between almost every conceivable place, that there has not been a pandemic in your lifetime? There have been five starts of potential pandemics over the last 20 years, yet none became serious. Did any of you put this together? Dear ones, when the world was far less populated a few hundred years ago, with no mass travel to spread a virus, there were still millions wiped out by a pandemic. With the increased population and mass travel, there is far more danger today than before. It doesn't make sense, does it? What happened to stop it?
When you know humanity's relationship to Gaia, it makes sense. Gaia is a life-force that is your partner, watching you change the balance of light and dark and reflecting what Humans want. It has polarity, too! Perhaps it's time to start your meditations with thanking your planet Earth for supporting you in the spirituality of your Akash, for always being with you, a life-force that is always present. The ancients started their ceremonies in that way. Have you forgotten?
Now, I've just set the stage for the next subject, haven't I? Ebola. Are you afraid yet? Gaia is a life-force that is a part of Human consciousness. My partner put it on the screen today so you could see the connections [during the lecture series]. Now it's time to connect the dots. Dear one, Gaia is in the battle, too, for here comes something scary that you haven't had in your lifetime and you're afraid of it - the potential of a pandemic on the planet.
There's a very famous film that has some dialogue that my partner will quote. Some of you will know it and some of you won't, but here it is: "Have a little fire, scarecrow?" What are you afraid of? Darkness? Gaia is in the battle with you and is actively pursuing solutions through light. The energy of the planet is with you in this fight! The ebola virus is a shock and a surprise. It is propelled by ignorance and fear, so it can flourish. Look at where it started and look at how it gets its ability to continue. It expands its fear and power easily with those who believe it's a curse instead of those who understand the science.
Villages are filled with those who refuse to leave their family members because they believe the disease is a curse! FEAR! Instead of understanding that they should be in isolation from the virus, the family dies together through ignorance and fear. This represents how darkness works. Are you going to become afraid also? Dear ones, ebola will be conquered. Know this and be at peace. Pray for light for those in the villages who are afraid, that they can know more about how to keep the spread of this disease and live to see their families. .”