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Time magazine announces its Person of the Year

When the Ebola outbreak first emerged in West Africa earlier this year, few imagined that it would have an impact on almost every country on the planet.

The disease spread rapidly, and it affected more than just the war- and poverty-ravaged region that was its incubator.

Letters on "The Ebola Hot Zone"

The epidemic grew rapidly due to its early arrival in crowded slums and due to the poor local health care systems that would have barely served as a speed bump had not a rush of help arrived from all corners of the globe to provide assistance and support to the numerous brave local health care providers who have put their lives on the line.

Those who fight Ebola are Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2014.

"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," the magazine wrote.

The Ebola outbreak has infected more than 17,800 people, most in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, killing 6,346.

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A Doctors Without Borders (MSF), health worker in protective clothing holds a child suspected of having Ebola in the MSF treatment center on October 5, 2014, in Paynesville, Liberia. John Moore/Getty Images

By the end of November, 622 health care workers had been infected with the Ebola virus and 346 of them died, according to the World Health Organization.

The magazine's explanation for the award is careful to point out that it wasn't just the tireless work of international organizations like Doctors Without Borders or missionary groups like Samaritan's Purse, but also the bravery of local health care providers, many of whom have paid for their efforts with their lives.

"If someone from America comes to help my people, and someone from Uganda, then why can't I?" Iris Martor, a Liberian nurse, told the magazine.

The Ebola Hot Zone

While Liberia and Guinea have also suffered greatly from the disease, there have been signs of improvement in each, but in Sierra Leone, things appear to be getting worse.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that found the rate of lab-confirmed Ebola infections this year has been 100 times higher in medical workers in Sierra Leone than in other adults.

The study cited a broad range of breaches in infection control and prevention practices. But it said that in recent months more training and availability of protective equipment may be helping.

Sierra Leone lost three doctors in the past week, prompting a strike of the junior doctors' association that started Monday.

"Ebola is a war, and a warning," Time magazine writes. "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.

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The alternate covers for Time magazine's Person of the Year issue. TIME MAGAZINE
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