Dr Barry Kirby AO is a carpenter-turned-doctor whose radical career change is now saving the lives of new mothers and babies in remote communities across Papua New Guinea. The founder of not-for-profit organisation, The Hands of Rescue, Dr Kirby has dedicated the second half of his life to reducing maternal mortality across PNG, providing remote maternal health checks, training midwives and delivering ‘baby bundles’ to incentivise expectant mothers to attend health clinics for the safe delivery of their babies.
Dr Kirby’s path to remote obstetrics was certainly not straight-forward. In 1986, he was a middle-aged “chippie” building a high school in remote PNG. One day, he came across a woman experiencing horrific labour pain on the side of the road. He raced her to a local medical centre, but tragically she didn’t survive. This traumatic experience compelled Dr Kirby to pursue a whole new career in medicine. Despite failing high school and spending decades as a carpenter, in 1995 he graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours), and went on to study medicine at the University of Papua New Guinea, becoming a qualified doctor at the age of 52. He built up his experience working as an emergency room doctor at Redlands Hospital in Brisbane, before returning to PNG in 2008 and undertaking a Diploma in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Almost two decades after the tragic death of a woman drove him to change careers, Dr Kirby founded The Hands of Rescue in 2011, with the mission of improving maternal health outcomes and providing a safe path to motherhood for women throughout the Milne Bay Province and the wider PNG community. He has partnered with Canberra based charity, Send Hope Not Flowers, to drive donations and philanthropic support for his maternal health programs in PNG, which have now attracted the interest of the World Health Organisation and the support of PNG’s leading obstetricians.
Dr Kirby’s humanitarian work has seen him awarded the prestigious Officer of the Order of Australia Award (AO) for his services to Australian and Papua New Guinea relations, and named Queensland Senior Australian of the Year in 2018. He is a remarkable example of how one person can make a huge difference to the lives of others, reminding us all that it’s never too late to make an impact.
See Dr Kirby’s response here to being named the Awardee of the Science & Healthcare Award for 2022.