Positive maternal influence

Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours)

Dr Barry Kirby AO was a 40-year-old carpenter working in Papua New Guinea (PNG), when he witnessed a traumatic incident that resulted in the death of a woman in labour.

This life-changing incident was the moment he decided that PNG needed more doctors than carpenters. He enrolled in study at Griffith University and upon completion, returned to PNG to implement his learnings, making him an unlikely hero in a landscape of overburdened and unsupported PNG health workers.

In 2011 he went on to establish the not-for-profit organisation 'The Hands of Rescue' (THOR).The foundation’s focus is on achieving safe motherhood for women in PNG. Their mission is to reduce maternal mortality throughout the Milne Bay Province and the wider PNG community. Barry also provides extra staff training, drug supplies, equipment and a bonus for local health workers - 20 kina ($9) for every baby delivered above the previous year's average.

As part of his charitable work, Dr Kirby surveyed expectant mothers regarding why many didn't come into local health centres. The key determining factor was that they couldn't afford the 5-10 kina ($2.25-$4.50) fees to help deliver their baby. They also expressed embarrassment that they had no clean clothes for their newborns and no soap to wash them with.

Quick to act, Barry involved the local community and created an enterprise to deliver 'baby bundles'. Each bundle contains a plastic baby bath, filled with tiny singlets and pants, nappies and towels, talcum powder, baby oil, mosquito nets and bright loincloths. Midwives distribute these 'baby bundles', worth about 60 kina ($27) each, as a reward to women who come in from their villages - sometimes many hours walk away - to deliver their babies at health centres. Within the first six months they had been offered at Dr Kirby's health centres, supervised deliveries rose sharply and deaths have fallen away. More than 600 bundles have gone out to date and this figure continues to rise.

Barry now spends most of his days in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, travelling around remote areas to conduct maternal health checks, train midwives and deliver his 'baby bundles'.

Dr Kirby's accolades included being awarded Queensland Senior Australian of the Year in 2018 for his humanitarian work and maintaining his position as CEO and face of not-for-profit organisation, THOR.

In 2018 Dr Kirby was also awarded the prestigious Officer of the Order of Australia Award (AO) for his services to Australian and Papua New Guinea relations.

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