Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2014 is…actually more than one person.

The highly anticipated tribute this year was awarded to the men and women fighting Ebola around the globe.

“The rest of the world can sleep at night because a group of men and women are willing to stand and fight,” the magazine’s editor, Nancy Gibbs, wrote in a Dec. 10 essay explaining the choice. “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’s annual recognition is usually given to the person or entity that wielded the largest influence on the world in the previous 12 months. Previous winners include aviator Charles Lindbergh, Pope Francis, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, Kenneth Starr and President Bill Clinton during his impeachment controversy, as well as “Good Samaritans” Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono and President Barack Obama.

This year’s shortlist included Russian President Vladimir Putin, a previous winner; Massoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan; Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma and the Ferguson, Mo., protesters whose “refusal to let a life be forgotten turned a local shooting into a national movement.”

But the Ebola epidemic, and those who continue to battle its lethal force, swept past them all.

The metamorphosis of Ebola from an “African disease” to a very real threat in the West dominated airwaves, captured the public’s attention and spread hysteria to far-flung places across the world.

A Texas university, for example, denied admission to Nigerian applicants because their country had “confirmed Ebola cases.” Citizens and officials in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago even debated cancelling their world-renowned Carnival—a major tourism attraction that boosts the nation’s coffers—for fear that some hapless visitor would import the dreaded disease.

The outbreak laid bare the inadequacies of the public health systems of America and many other countries, but also highlighted the heroism of doctors, nurses, hospital directors, ambulance drivers and other health care workers who gave of themselves, even unto death, to show compassion to the infected and halt the march of the deadly pandemic.

“There was little to stop the disease from spreading further,” Gibbs wrote. “Governments weren’t equipped to respond; the World Health 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…fought side by side with local doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and burial teams…epitomizing the hero’s heart.”