The day after Christmas in 2013, a young boy named Emile in the small West African nation of Guinea came down with a high fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. He died two days later. Within a few weeks, Emile’s sister and mother had died as well. By the end of March 2014, scientists at France’s Institut Pasteur determined that the cause was the Zaire species of Ebola, the most lethal virus in the Ebola family. Emile’s illness sparked the largest Ebola outbreak in history, provoking panic all over the world. “Ebola is ‘devouring everything in its path,'” reads a typical headline in The Washington Post.
On the frontlines of the fight against Ebola was the nonprofit Last Mile Health. In 2007, co-founders Dr. Raj Panjabi and Dr. Amisha Raja took the $6,000 they received from friends and family at their wedding and began training, equipping, and paying everyday citizens to become community health workers in Liberia—a country with only 51 doctors left for a population of 4 million. Panjabi had grown up in Liberia but had been forced to flee the country during its bloody civil war.