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Sending hope not flowers to support Dr Barry Kirby's life-saving PNG work

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Barry Kirby's harrowing stories of his quest to curb the number of mothers dying during childbirth in Papua New Guinea have prompted an outpouring of donations, with one woman pledging to bequeath her house to the cause after the doctor's National Press Club address on Wednesday.

In his speech, the obstetrics and gynaecological specialist recounted his work in PNG's Milne Bay province and his decision to retrain from a builder to a doctor after seeing the dire medical services there.

Send Hope Not Flowers, the Canberra-based charity backing his work, has received about $10,000 in donations since Wednesday, with more flooding in.

Dr Kirby, too, has had several approaches and pledges of support, including a group from Cairns who want to set up a trust for ongoing funding and a philanthropic organisation from Sydney keen to come on board.

"It's hard to know how people respond when you talk about PNG," Dr Kirby said.

"Australia does contribute a lot of aid to PNG, but I think the audience was largely women and there were some very powerful women in the group … the stories I was telling – they could relate to [them]."


He found addressing the press club a nerve-racking experience, but said it was an honour to share his experiences with an Australian audience.

"[Australians] get asked to dig deep [for charity] all the time … but the fact that this is maternal deaths, and they're so high in PNG, and someone like me from the coalface is talking about it, you can relate to what is going on," Dr Kirby said.

"Most [women in the audience] have been through childbirth and they know how risky it can be … Men have no idea what childbirth is like; we have no idea how painful it is."

All money raised will fund the bundles of baby supplies his organisation, the Hands of Rescue Foundation, gives to expectant mothers to encourage them and their partners to seek antenatal care and give birth in the safety of a medical centre rather than at home in the village.

"It goes straight into the hands of the mothers I talked about," he said.

"We've gone from [offering bundles] at three centres to 16 centres and there's another 12 I'd like to do."

Send Hope Not Flowers board member Tara Taubenschlag said the charity was thrilled with the support received and expected the donations to grow beyond the $10,000 raised in the 24 hours after Dr Kirby's speech.

Among the supporters was a woman who wanted to donate the profits of her investment portfolio and bequeath a home to the cause.

Encouraging more women in positions of power to lend their weight to reducing PNG's maternal death rate was a theme of Dr Kirby's speech, which attracted interest from several high-profile women, including Australia's Ambassador for Women, Natasha Stott Despoja.

Dr Kirby believes the key could be encouraging Australian women to engage with those in PNG.

"Maybe [Prime Minister] Tony Abbott's wife could get in and start this [initiative] going, and bring the PNG prime minister's wife on board," he said.

"In developing countries, where politics are taken very serious, politicians are the big people … When they say something, people stand up and listen."