John Bazemore / The Associated Press

Dr. Kent Brantly stands with his wife, Amber, after his release Thursday from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where he was treated for Ebola.

Editorial: To answer calling, these professionals go into danger to help others

Published: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 - 12:00 am

Real bravery is knowing that you’re risking your life for a worthy cause but doing it anyway.

Soldiers and police officers often do that. As two global stories – the Ebola outbreak and the Middle East conflicts – should remind us, so do reporters and doctors.

James Foley, a freelance journalist, knew he was going into harm’s way when he went to Syria to help tell that story. He disappeared in November 2012 and became the second Western reporter killed by Islamic extremists. He was beheaded by a militant with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which posted a horrific video this week. Listening to his parents talk Wednesday of their pride for him and his work, you had to grieve with them.

Foley’s executioner said he was being killed in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that have stalled the brutal group’s advance. Earlier, however, ISIS was reportedly seeking a $132 million payment for his release. The U.S. government, unlike some in Europe, is rightly refusing to pay ransoms to terrorist groups because that only encourages more kidnappings and helps finance their operations. U.S. special forces attempted to rescue him and other Americans held captive by ISIS in Syria last month, but they had been moved.

So far this year, 32 journalists have been killed because of their work or while on assignment, including 14 in a military conflict, says the Committee to Protect Journalists. That follows 70 last year, including 25 on a battlefield.

Doctors, meanwhile, are fighting a war against the largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history. The death toll in West Africa has topped 1,200, but the World Health Organization says the true number may be vastly higher.

Health workers from the U.S. and Europe know the dangers, but they’re going to West Africa anyway. To heal their patients, they have to get close to the highly contagious, deadly virus. Even with the best of precautions, they sometimes get infected.

They’re also having to combat fear and threats from local residents, who blame them for the spread of the virus. Yet, these volunteers from Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian groups are badly needed because these nations had very few doctors even before this plague, and dozens of health workers have been among the victims.

Thursday, however, there was the nearly miraculous sight of Kent Brantly walking out of an Atlanta hospital. The Texas doctor had been infected in Liberia, where he had gone on a mission with Samaritan’s Purse. It took an emergency airlift, the best possible treatment for nearly three weeks and an experimental drug for him to recover.

Like many doctors – and, yes, reporters – Brantly sees his work not just as a profession, but as a calling. They are so drawn, in fact, that they are willing to put their lives on the line. We ought to be humbled by that courage.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board

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