Dr Oliver Herbert

Brief Biography

Oliver Herbert is a Medical Anthropologist and specialist in Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases with a sub specialization in Allergology. His initial research focused on the effects of environment and lifestyle on allergological sensitization and the prevalence of atopic diseases in Papua New Guinea (Doctor of Medicine, Technical University, Munich, 2000). Having done clinical work in Papua New Guinea, he became interested in the local people’s beliefs in sorcery and their explanations of illness. In 2000 he started studying anthropology and law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. He successfully passed the intermediate examination in law in 2003 and after repeated anthropological fieldwork in the Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, he received a PhD in Anthropology in 2007. His continued interest in health in Papua New Guinea is the basis for his current interdisciplinary research in cooperation with the departments of Public Health, University of Sydney, Australia and University of Bremen, Germany. Intermittently Dr. Herbert works as a clinician for the German Air Force and in the Dermatology Department of the Swiss High Mountain Clinic in Davos.

Current research

Oliver Herbert’s main interest is to bring together the disciplines of anthropology, medicine and public health, to draw a more comprehensive picture of illness and health. The differences in language and concepts characteristic of scholars from different traditions (e.g. qualitative vs. quantitative) are often so pronounced that fruitful cooperation is largely undermined - despite an overall growing interest in interdisciplinary work. Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches, Dr. Herbert’s current research focuses on the effects of Melanesian tradition and Western modernity on indigenous health in Papua New Guinea: specifically, how explanatory models of illness are shaped in an intercultural context, why do people in certain circumstances favour traditional treatments whereas in other instances they may prefer biomedical approaches, what are the actual diagnostic and therapeutic options within traditional and western medicine on Karkar Island (phytomedicine, spiritual healing, antibiotics, operations…), what are the effects of worm infestations on the immune system and what is the impact of local social behavior on health e.g. sexual behaviour on HIV, and betel nut chewing and smoking on cancer?