1914 - 4 May, 2017. Dr Joseph Barnes, was a nationally and internationally respected physician. He was born in Belfast the fifth child of Jeremiah Barnes and Mary Frances McGinley. They moved to Dublin in 1922, due to the political upheaval of the times.
Joseph was schooled in CBS Synge Street and then studied medicine in UCD. After graduating in 1938 and spending a year as a house surgeon in the Mater hospital, Joe was appointed as the medical doctor in a 200-bed hospital in Emekuku, Nigeria. He went on to work in Ogoja province where he, with the Medical Missionaries of Mary, established a network of leprosy villages. They delivered treatment to 37,000 lepers.
When war in Europe ceased, he returned to study dermatology in the Sorbonne University, Paris; St Thomas’s Hospital, London; and in Leeds. There he met Dr Betty Allday, who became his wife. They married in 1949 in Weybridge, Surrey.
He was awarded an MD in dermatology from UCD. During this time, contact was made with Vincent Barry of TCD, who was doing research on a new drug for tuberculosis. There was a known similarity between the mycobacteria causing both leprosy and tuberculosis. He and his wife, Betty, carried out clinical trials of the drug B283 on leprosy patients over a two-year period. They reported their findings in the Lancet in 1951. Their work was vital in the development of clofazimine, the accepted treatment of leprosy throughout the world to this day. With its development, the management of this dreaded disease shifted away from segregation and isolation to modern drug-based treatment.
In recognition of this important work on leprosy, he was awarded the Gold Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice. He returned to Dublin as a consultant dermatologist in the Mater hospital. His quiet and unassuming character endeared him to patients and colleagues alike. Joe became a familiar figure in Dublin as he cycled every day from Ballyboden to the Mater. His work in Dublin was interrupted with many trips to zones of strife in Africa and Asia. The International Red Cross posted him to the Congo in 1960 and to Biafra, Nigeria, in 1968. President Éamon de Valera presented him the Red Cross Medal for “endurance under fire”.
Under the authority of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he worked with Bengali refugees who had fled to Assam, India, during the war of independence in 1970. Again, under the same international authority in 1979, he was part of a team inspecting refugee camps dotted along the Thai borders with Laos and Kampuchea (Cambodia). He worked with Lady Valerie Goulding in the Lebanon in 1983. He worked with Victor Bewley for the health and wellbeing of the Travellers in the early 1970s. He was awarded “Man of the Year” in 1974 in recognition of his humanitarian spirit.
On his retirement from the Mater hospital in 1983, he was appointed distinguished lecturer in the Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons. He encouraged scientific enquiry in young doctors by presenting the Barnes Medal for Young Investigator Research every year.
To acknowledge his influential work, the Royal College of Surgeons awarded him a college medal in 2004. In that same year his own contribution to dermatology on a national and international basis was acknowledged by an award from the International League of Dermatological Societies.
Joseph Barnes oversaw and played an important role in the advances in management of Hansen’s disease, from the days of palliative therapies to the development of effective drugs. His concern for his patients was holistic, embracing their medical, nutritional, educational, psychological and spiritual needs.
The treatment of Hansen’s disease now consists of two or three drugs together, resulting in cure. In 1986, Doctor Barnes wrote about his experience in the MMM Summer Magazine. There he indicated the motivation for his work in this and other areas. ‘If only you could see the remarkable result which can be obtained with treatment of this ancient scourge, you’d feel as gratified as I do.’