APHA’s oldest and most prestigious award, the Sedgwick Award Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Health, was awarded posthumously to Douglas Bernard Kirby, PhD.
The award was established in honor of the late Prof. William Thompson Sedgwick, who was APHA president in 1915 and head of the Department of Biological and Public Health at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1883-1921. Since 1929, the Sedgwick medal has been awarded annually to an individual who has demonstrated a distinguished record of service to public health while tirelessly working to advance public health knowledge and practice.
Kirby, who passed away Dec. 22, 2012, was a senior research scientist at ETR Associates in Scotts Valley, Calif. He dedicated his career to promoting sexual and reproductive health among young people through writing, teaching and research. During his career, Kirby served as scientific advisor to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Educational, Safety and Cultural Organization and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Kirby published more than 150 articles, chapters or monographs on adolescent sexual behavior and programs to reduce sexual risk-taking behavior and gave more than 300 presentations or trainings to professional groups and members of the media on the topic. He evaluated abstinence-only policies, sexuality and HIV education programs, school-based clinics, school condom availability programs and youth development programs. Kirby also co-authored research on the Reducing the Risk, Safer Choices and Draw the Line curricula, all of which significantly reduced unprotected sex either by delaying sex, increasing condom use or increasing contraceptive use.
Kirby has been honored by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, the American School Health Association, the California Alliance Concerned with Teenage Parenting and Pregnancy Prevention and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, among others.
“Not only did Dr. Kirby have an impact on large entities like governments, foundations, universities, policy think tanks, non-profit organizations, schools, health facilities, etc., but he also had an impact on thousands of people individually,” said Lori A. Rolleri, MSW, MPH, a policy health consultant. “People mattered to Dr. Kirby, and he had an incredible way of combining impersonal things like research and data with human connection and compassion.”
Prior to working at ETR Associates Kirby was research director at the Center for Populations Options (CPO), director of the Social Science Group at Mathtech, Inc., and lecturer at San Diego State University, the University of California, Los Angeles and California State University at Northridge.
He has been described by colleagues as “a tireless advocate for the sexual and reproductive rights of youth and for the implementation of fact-based adolescent sexual health education” and as “a creative thinker who always stopped to question whether the prevailing theories and approaches made sense and whether we could be more effective through different means.”
“He was a tremendous leader and role model for thousands of public health professionals and made time to advise or assist in any way he could,” said Janet Collins, PhD, associate director for program at the CDC. “At the core he was a warm and caring human being who connected personally with the people around him.”