News is by nature a grim business, the most terrible and tragic tales dominating headlines and squeezing out the humdrum humanity that is reality for most people on our planet. From Syria to Sierra Leone, from Gaza to Ukraine, the past 12 months have seen more than their share of such stories – although covering these cataclysmic events, I remain heartened by glimpses of decency emerging even in the most disturbing places.
As we reflect on another turbulent year, which saw the first annexation in Europe since the Second World War and hideous savagery reshaping the Middle East, we should step back and salute the heroes beneath those headlines of chaos and carnage. Nowhere could they be seen with greater clarity than in the core of the Ebola epidemic. During my few days in Liberia, I came across African doctors and Western disease control experts who rushed to help alongside scores of locals daily risking their lives to save their nation.
Yet I will never forget talking to a fearful family down a side street in Monrovia beside a clinic overflowing with Ebola patients. The father had already seen his mother and oldest daughter die of the disease; now his three remaining children were sick and desperately seeking treatment. One small child lay her listless head on his shoulder, while an older daughter was the sickest I have seen anyone still standing as she whispered to me she had been ill for a week. “I am so scared,” she said.
They are possibly all dead now, alongside many others I met in Monrovia, for one of the most awful things about the virus is the cruel way it carves through close-knit families and communities. But thinking of them inspired me to ask for your tolerance in allowing me to choose my hero of the year, a woman who laid down her life to ensure many more people around the world did not suffer like that poor family.
Her name was Ameyo Stella Adadevoh. She was a devoted mother, a dedicated doctor and descendant of Herbert Macaulay, a famous nationalist and one of Nigeria’s founding fathers. Now she deserves to share her great-grandfather’s iconic status for her selfless actions ensured Ebola did not explode in Nigeria. Had it done so, a local disaster that has killed 7,700 people and crippled three countries could have turned into a global nightmare given her nation’s huge population, shambolic public services, conflict-ridden north and connections with the rest of the world.
It was back in July when a 40-year-old man named Patrick Sawyer entered the First Consultant Hospital in Lagos with symptoms that suggested malaria. A Liberian civil servant with US citizenship, he denied being in contact with any Ebola patients despite his sister having just died of the virus, vomiting heavily on the plane that flew him to Lagos and then collapsing on arrival in West Africa’s busiest transport hub. It is thought he possibly wanted to reach a celebrated Pentecostal church.
Ebola was unknown in Nigeria but Adadevoh – the long-serving duty consultant in a private clinic – was rightly suspicious so isolated her patient and alerted local health officials. Sawyer became aggressive and demanded to leave, claiming he had to attend a conference in a coastal town and calling his contacts. So at one stage she had to resist threatening calls from Liberian diplomats, accusing her of kidnapping him. Another time she had to physically restrain her screaming patient as he yanked out his intravenous tube, spraying highly contagious blood around the room.
2014: The year in pictures
2014: The year in pictures
Chilly weather saw New York suffer under eight inches of snow and ice early 2014.
Afton Almaraz/Getty Images
Protesters catch fire as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police on February 20, 2014 in Kiev.
Ellen DeGeneres' selfie becomes the most retweeted in history sparking the selfie craze.
A Syrian man holds a crying girl as he gestures following an air strike by government forces on the Sahour neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Despite shocking images emerging from the country - and some claims of chemical weapons - the UK parliament voted against intervention in an historic loss for the government.
Deputies of Ukraine's parliament fight during a parliament sitting in Kiev in April, as the country continued its descent into chaos. The civil war - which rumble on through 2014 - has claimed an estimated 4,000 lives.
Rob Ford was elected in 2010 on a populist platform. He attempted to weather the scandal after footage emerged of him appearing to smoke crack cocaine
Footage of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamic terrorist organisation Boko Haram is released, shocking the world and prompting a global #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. Many of the girls remain missing.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl vanished from his post in Afghanistan in June 2009 but was released after US government negotiations with the Taliban.
Boys watch a screening of the 2014 World Cup Group A soccer match between Brazil and Mexico, at the slum of Varjao on the outskirts of Brasilia
The footage taken of Garner's arrest just hours before he died in police custody. His death would spark protests and riots across America
Debris of the Boeing 777, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which crashed during flying over the eastern Ukraine region near Donetsk. It is believed that Russian separatists may have shot down the passenger plane, killing all 298 on board.
Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza. The ensuing conflict killed thousands and marked the lowest point in relations for years.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton took personal responsibility, and praise, for the US finding and killing Osama bin Laden
Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed in a confrontation with white police officer Darren Wilson, drew hundreds on to the streets of Ferguson
As the Ferguson protests deteriorated into violence Amnesty International deployed within US for the first time.
A supermoon rises over London
Ebola strikes Liberia, New Guinea, Nigeria and Sierre Leone. A slow response from the international community saw the deadly virus spread rapidly - at one point threatening western nations. More than 5,000 west Africans died in the outbreak.
John Moore/Getty Images
A Hong Kong protester raises his umbrellas in front of tear gas in what became known as the 'Umbrella Revolution'. Thousands of students, lawyers, teachers and managers took to the streets to protest China's continued control over the city's elections. The protest was eventually dismantled in December.
An Ottawa police officer runs with his weapon drawn outside Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Reservist Nathan Crillio died after a gunman opened fire on the Canadian parliament building, shocking the nation.
Militants of Isis stand just before explosion of an air strike on Tilsehir hill near Turkish border at Yumurtalik village, in Sanliurfa province.
Shortly afterwards more fuel was added to delicate racial tensions in the US when another grand jury chose not to prosecute an NYPD office for the death of Eric Garner. His last words, "I can't breathe", became a rally cry across America.
Thousands flocked to see the 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' evolving art installation at the Tower of London, prompting authorities to promise to keep a small part of the exhibit remembering the dead of WWI open past the 100th anniversary
A hostage runs towards a police officer outside a cafe, where hostages were held by a gunman. Two people lost their lives as the 16-hour siege was lifted.
A poster for ‘The Interview’ is destined for a bin after being pulled. The FBI suspected North Korea of staging the hacks that saw thousands of private emails from Sony employee leaked online.
After five days, Sawyer died – and then Adadevoh was found to have caught the wretched virus. On August 19, she succumbed to the disease, as did three of her colleagues. But their legacy could be seen in the impressive way Nigeria responded, tracking down and monitoring 898 people linked to Sawyer, including a nurse who had travelled 310 miles to another town. One subsequently infected doctor had another 526 contacts. The state governor displayed exemplary leadership; film stars and posts on social media helped explain the disease and its dangers. By mid-October, Nigeria was declared Ebola-free after just seven deaths.
This was a brilliant performance from a much-maligned nation. As one senior United States official said, the last thing anyone in the world ever wants to ever hear are the words “Ebola” and “Lagos” in the same sentence. This conjures up images of apocalyptic urban outbreak in a bustling mega-city of 21 million people, the biggest in Africa and full of the sort of over-crowded slums that could see the virus spread terrifyingly fast.
It would have been easier for Adadevoh to discharge her difficult patient or pass him to a bigger hospital. Instead, a strong woman carried out her duties, her steely determination and ultimate self-sacrifice serving as a salutary reminder of shared humanity and the power of public service. Her brave stance offers a stinging rebuke to the fatal complacency of so many in the international community over Ebola – and to the patronising ignorance of all those Westerners who think they are the real saviours of Africa.
Adadevoh was just one Ebola victim among many, one more person who briefly flared in the headlines before flickering attention turned to news of death and destruction from elsewhere. But the globe owes this courageous woman its gratitude. She deserves to be hailed as the true hero of 2014.
Sadly, this year’s villain still has supporters
So who is the villain of the year? The answer is too easy: it has to be Vladimir Putin for deliberately ripping apart a neighbouring nation after its people rejected his kleptocratic chums and sought the kinds of freedom he spends his time squashing in Russia. Now almost 5,000 people have died in a needless conflict, one million Ukrainians have been displaced and the world waits anxiously to see how he reacts to his crashing economy.
One of those I met while watching Putin steal Crimea with his stealth invasion and sham referendum was a young photographer called Gennady Afanasiev. This nervous young activist admitted being scared as he opposed the annexation of his birthplace. This was not surprising; he and his friends were suffering harassment even before the rigged vote in March as they mounted their mild protests.
With his black clothes and part-shaved head, Gennady reminded me of a student activist – although his language was more moderate. Two months later, he was arrested by Russian security for supposedly plotting to blow up a statue of Lenin in Simferopol, in league with a prominent film director and far-right nationalists. Now, in another sign of Crimea’s declining human rights, Moscow sources say he has been sentenced to seven years in jail.
Such cases, along with the harassment of Tartar Muslims and clampdown on local media, should rebuke all those useful idiots on both right and left who were so blinkered by their own prejudices they ended up endorsing the actions of this diminutive despot.Reuse content