More than 360 African health workers died of Ebola this year. Some of them made headlines around the world, such as Dr. Umar Sheik Khan, the Sierra Leonean physician who treated more than 100 Ebola patients before contracting the disease himself.
But most of the fallen health workers didn't get that degree of attention. They were doctors, nurses, midwives, lab technicians. They didn't have the proper protective equipment. As they tried to save the lives of others, they sacrificed their own.
The loss is tremendous. Liberia, for example, a nation of 4.3 million, had only about 50 doctors before the Ebola outbreak. The country has reportedly lost four of them to the epidemic.
In some West African clinics and medical facilities, the faces of the lost health workers stare out from tribute walls: Photos of the deceased are posted in hallways outside offices and examination rooms. A person's name and job may be scrawled in ink underneath the photo, along with a personal note.
At Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, the messages included:
"Angie, We all love U but God loves U. May her soul rest in perfect peace."
"Gone but not forgotten. R.I.P."
"Another fallen hero."
NPR photographer John Poole visited the Liberian Midwives Association in its cramped headquarters in Monrovia, the country's capital, to take pictures of the 30-some portraits displayed on a wall. "Can you imagine waking up one morning, and the first thing that hits you is the death of a friend?" says Lucy Bahr, president of the association. "Then before you can say a word, there's another death?
"It is very sad that we have to go through this loss in a country that had just a handful of midwives and health workers," she says. "As I am speaking to you, another midwife a few days ago, she treated a patient at her private clinic. The patient had Ebola so she contracted the disease and died."
The death toll may be greater than we know, Bahr says. "People die in some remote rural villages, and we do not have any information on them."
Yet in the midst of all this sorrow, there is hope. "West Africans are resilient," says Dr. Aaron Buseh, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing, who is originally from Liberia. "They will probably rise up again from this serious epidemic," he predicts.
Bahr agrees: "We cannot give up now," she says. "As for me, I feel it is my calling and passion to save lives."
To those who lost their lives, we echo the words of family, friends and colleagues: "You are fallen heroes. You are gone but not forgotten. May you rest in perfect peace."
Pictured above, from left to right:
Top Row: Sando Sirleaf Jr, Sharon Shamoyan, Laurene W. Togba-RN [registered nurse], Kortoe M. Berry-RN, Gloria Tonia Banks, David Korpu-RN, Jamaimah Harlebah-RN, Youngor Suakollie-RN
Second row: Alice M. Paasewe-CM [certified midwife], James J. Kemokai-RN, James T. Daah-RN, Enid D. Dalieh-RN, Mercy W. Dahn-RN, Layson Zuu-RN, Josephine K. Gibson-RN, Tamba Eric Fallah-RN.
Third row: Kebeh Bernice Zawu, Roseline K Moliwulo-CM, Kebbeh Marzou Akoi, Mohammed Sheriff-RN, Otino J. Garpue-RN, Joseph Sulon-RN, Esther D. Kezelee-RN, Zion S. Nuah-RM
Fourth row: Martha Y. Tom, Isatu Isatu Boyah Salifu, Enoch W.W. Saywon, Nornor Friencelai Kollie, Christian Tulah Harris, Joseph M. Khakie, Nathaniel S. Kollie-RN, Anita Leela Sackie.