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Dr. Caroline Meier zu Biesen

Caroline Meier zu Biesen received her Master and Phd degrees at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Free University of Berlin. Within the past years of her studies, Caroline conducted fieldwork as well as research projects for (inter-)national NGOs in Ethiopia, Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Thailand.

She received scholarships from the FES (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung) and the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst).

Before joining the Center for Area Studies as a postdoctoral fellow in May 2012, Caroline was a lecturer at the Department for Social and Cultural Anthropology. She also conducted a collaboration project among the NGO “Südtiroler Ärzte für die Dritte Welt”, the Free University of Berlin (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology) and the Ministry of Health on Zanzibar. The project seeks to promote collaboration between traditional healers, medical doctors, and the Ministry of Health on Zanzibar.

Experiences of this interdisciplinary project formed her interest in the recent postdoc study which is applying the area of medical anthropology, (traditional) medicine, modern science and antimalarial phytomedicine.

Caroline is a member of the workgroup “Medical Anthropology” at the Department of Anthropology in Berlin and belongs to (inter-)national research network groups (such as AAA, EASA, MAYS, anamed).

(long CV for download)

Focus of Research

(Critical) Medical Anthropology, Applied Anthropology, Health policy, Traditional medicine, Medicinal plants, Bio-prospecting, Bioethics, Social inequality and medicine, Anthropology of pharmaceuticals, HIV/AIDS, Malaria

Regional research focus: Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zanzibar


Postdoctoral Research Project

 Between tradition, science and research: anti-malarial phytomedicine, a potential in combating malaria?


Malaria is the most important parasitic disease of mankind. Up to date, malaria elimination efforts include the application of Artemisinin-combination therapies (ACTs). ACTs derive from the Chinese medicinal plant Artemisia annua L. As the key-ingredient in the leading treatment for malaria (“Artemisinin”) is an extract of an ancient plant, the (re-)discovery of A. annua reveals a “golden triangle” – an interaction between traditional medicine, modern medicine, and science (Dalrymple 2008).


The global rollout of ACTs has resulted in reductions in malaria prevalence. However, it has also stimulated economic interests among pharmaceutical industries who maintain a monopoly over the drug-production. Furthermore, ACTs are often unaffordable to the poorest patients in remote areas. In consideration of this impact, this research project studies alternative method of resolution in combating malaria. It focusses on what is described a “reverse pharmacology” approach (Willcox 2011), e.g. the development of an innovative standardized herbal anti-malarial phytomedicine.


Special attention is given to the potential of Artemisia-tea as a self-reliant antimalarial-treatment including local production practices. Since the Chinese plant was transferred to other socio-cultural contexts and now plays an important role in East Africa, the case of Tanzania/Zanzibar is particularly interesting and scientifically relevant. The country hosts a wide spectrum of stakeholders who are seeking for alternative Artemisia-based-therapies, which are efficient, inexpensive, and accessible.

By using qualitative research methods (interviews, participant observation, network-analysis), this project intends to research on the dynamic character of therapeutic practices in an interconnected world. This can be illustrated with implications in the management of malaria and the appropriation of innovative therapies deriving from the Chinese plant in Africa as well as the phenomenon of traditional healers´ active participating in health betterment on Zanzibar. Zanzibar is currently in the process of providing a framework for the coordination of activities related to the development of traditional medicine and traditional healers in the public health sector. The project follows an actor-centered approach, e.g. interests and motives of Ministry of Health representatives, representatives of the Institute of Traditional Medicine, patients as well as traditional healers in applying the Artemisia-therapy will be explored and analyzed.




Meier zu Biesen, Caroline. 2010. ´The rise to prominence of Artemisia annua L. – the transformation of a Chinese plant to a global pharmaceutical´, African Sociological Review 14 (2): 24-46.


Meier zu Biesen, Caroline (forthcoming in 2012): Chinesische Heilpraxis global: innovative HIV-Therapien in Tansania.


Meier zu Biesen, Caroline (forthcoming in 2013). Notions of efficacy around a Chinese medicinal plant: Artemisia annua – an innovative AIDS-therapy in Tanzania. Special section on religion and antiretroviral therapy.


Working and Conference Papers


11.7.2012 Conference Paper: “Treatment-seeking behaviour for malaria in Tanzania - uncertainty and trust in a new remedy”. Workshop: Uncertainty and trust in medicines and therapeutic techniques, EASA (European Association of Social Anthropologists) 2012 Nanterre University, France, Paris.


20.6.2012 Seminar: La mondialisation de la santé et du medicament au XXe siècle: saviors, industrie, régulation. Paper “Chinese medical practices transformed: Artemisinin-based therapies and innovations in Tanzania.” Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France, Paris.


13.-4.6.2011 Panel organizer: “Social life of medical technologies and pharmaceuticals”. 2nd annual MAYS Meeting, Medical Anthropology Young Scholars, University of Warsaw, Poland


5.12.2010 Conference Paper: “The Social Life of a Medicine: ‘Artemisia Annua’ - The Transformation of a Chinese Plant to a Global Pharmaceutical”. Berlin Roundtables "Health Politics in an Interconnected World. An International Essay Competition of the Irmgard Coninx Foundation, the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) and Humboldt-University Berlin" (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB).


25.9.2010 Conference Paper:  „Von der Pflanze zum Pharmakon: Artemisia annua L. im Spannungsfeld von lokaler Aneignung und globalen (Macht-) Strukturen“; Jahrestagung der Internationalen NGO Anamed e.V. in Stuttgart/Winnenden.

27.8. 2010 Conference Paper: “The rise to prominence of Artemisia annua L. – the transformation of a Chinese plant to a global pharmaceutical”. Workshop: Medicating crisis, EASA (European Association of Social Anthropologists) 2011 Maynooth, Ireland.


6.5.2010 Presentation: „Grüne Hoffnung im Kampf gegen Malaria? Artemisia annua – eine asiatische Medizinalpflanze in Ostafrika“; Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften an der FU (Präsentation der Arbeitsstelle Medical Anthropology des Instituts für Ethnologie)


28.3.2009 Paper: „Self-reliant treatment for malaria in developing countries.“ German Agro Action, Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.