Putney man helping rebuild health facilities in Liberia


’It’s some of the most enjoyable work that I’ve had’

PUTNEY -- Joe Moyer is back again. But not for long.

The 66-year-old works for John Snow, Inc. (JSI), a public health firm based in Boston, and has been in the African nation of Liberia for the past four years, working on rebuilding and rehabilitating health facilities destroyed during the country’s most recent civil war.

Moyer, who lives in Putney with his wife, Christine, is home until Sept. 3, when he is set to return to Liberia to continue his work for a few more months.

Moyer told the Reformer he worked for JSI in the late 1990s and then in 2010 got a call from the corporation asking him to lend his expertise to the cause in Liberia. This is the first time he has lived in West Africa -- having previously called the Middle East his home for several years.

"It’s some of the most enjoyable work that I’ve had. It’s ideal -- to be able to combine helping people put there lives back together and the thing I know best, project management," he said in a telephone interview on Friday. "There was a whole generation of people lost, with no education system or health care system."

Nearly 200 years ago, Liberia was colonized by African-Americans, many of whom were freed slaves, with the help of the American Colonization Society, a private group whose members thought former slaves would have greater opportunity if returned to Africa. The nation’s flag resembles that of the United States (but with only one star) and the capital is named Monrovia, after former President James Monroe, who supported the colonization efforts.

Moyer told the Reformer he has been treated well and feels his work there is appreciated. Once he returns to Liberia, much of Moyer’s work will pertain to renovating a government-run health facility in an area heavily affected by the Ebola virus.

"It’s devastating. It really is. Liberia has the highest number of deaths (related to Ebola)," he said. "It’s difficult to control."

Moyer said the virus is transmitted through bodily fluids and its symptoms are similar to that of malaria, a disease that is not deemed as serious by many Africans. He said the death rate usually hovers around 90 percent of those affected, but the rate is currently between 50 and 60 percent because it is a slightly different strain.

"Health care workers are the most vulnerable," Moyer said. "And it’s now affecting the economy. ... (Experts) say it will be six months before they get this under control."

According to a press release from JSI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported a suspected and confirmed case count of 670 people who have died from the Ebola virus in Liberia as of Aug. 13. The JSI said it has been implementing the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) flagship health project that has worked to rebuild the health system after 14 years of civil war. Moyer is the infrastructure advisor for the project and oversees the management of renovations for 110 hospitals and clinics and two nursing schools.

Before his work in Africa, Moyer was a senior project manager for a New Hampshire-based construction company, a senior program officer for a Boston-based international education nonprofit, a country director for Peace Corps in Yemen and a Peace Corps volunteer in Iran.

Once his work in completed, Moyer looks forward to planting a half-acre of asparagus with his wife, who is a teacher at Marlboro Elementary School, and helping people with short-term projects.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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