He’s in his late sixties but Dr Barry Kirby AO is only getting started as he continues his life-saving work helping new mothers and babies in remote communities in Papua New Guinea.
The founder of not-for-profit organisation The Hands of Rescue, Dr Kirby in 2019 was named Griffith University’s Outstanding Alumnus.
Dr Kirby was a middle-aged “chippie” working in Papua New Guinea when he witnessed a traumatic incident that resulted in the death of a woman in labour.
It changed the course of his career. In that moment, he decided PNG needed doctors more than carpenters.
“At 52, I became a doctor,” he said, pausing to reflect on the challenges he’s overcome.
“When I started I was too old, I came from the wrong background, I was a carpenter, I failed high school, I had all these negative things thrown at me. Griffith was the only university to give me a break and that’s what I needed.”
Dr Kirby, having completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours) at Griffith in the mid 1990’s, returned to PNG determined to make a difference.
The St Lawrence’s College old boy studied at Port Moresby Hospital eventually becoming a doctor when some are thinking about retirement.
“Every time a woman has a delivery, she is risking her life for the sake of giving life,” he said.
“The Hands of Rescue focuses on reducing maternal deaths by increasing supervised deliveries and by upskilling staff to deal with obstetrics emergencies.
“We put maternal deaths on the radar, saying mothers are precious, they carry this country and we have to make it good for them.”
Dr Kirby’s foundation, THOR, was established in 2011 with a focus on achieving safe motherhood for women in the Milne Bay Province and throughout PNG.
“He is a champion of maternal health and an unlikely hero in a remote landscape of overburdened and unsupported healthcare workers,” said Griffith University Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Carolyn Evans.
“Dr Kirby is achieving remarkable outcomes in what is his second career, one that is solely motivated by his compassion for, and commitment to, women giving birth to new generations of PNG citizens.”