Biehl awarded Wellcome Medal for medical anthropology

João Biehl, professor of anthropology and co-director of the Program on Global Health and Health Policy, was awarded the Wellcome Medal for Anthropology as Applied to Medical Problems for his book "Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival."

Sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, this award is given biennially by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland "for a recent body of published work which makes, as a whole, a significant contribution to research in anthropology as applied to medical problems."

The Wellcome Medal is one of the highest awards in anthropology, and the winning book is entered into the anthropology collection at the British Museum. Biehl shared the Wellcome Medal with Ron Barrett, author of "Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death and Healing in Northern India."

In "Will to Live," Biehl describes how Brazil became the first developing country to universalize access to life-saving AIDS therapies and why this policy is so difficult to implement among poor Brazilians with HIV/AIDS. Biehl collaborated with photographer Torben Eskerod on the book, which was published by Princeton University Press in 2007.

In the official award letter, the judges commented that "Biehl's study of AIDS and HIV patients in Brazil is a beautiful and methodologically bold work. The study spans a 10-year period and develops a life history approach which moves seamlessly between the personal and the institutional and global practices shaping the destinies of AIDS and HIV patients. By using theory to understand rather than dominate his materials Biehl enhances our understanding both of the lives lived and the global forces that shape them."

"Will to Live" also won the Diana Forsythe Prize of the American Anthropological Association.

Biehl joined the Princeton faculty in 2001, and his research has been supported by Princeton's Grand Challenges Program as well as grants from the Guggenheim, MacArthur, Wenner-Gren and Ford foundations. His previous book, "Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment," focused on mental illness and received numerous awards, and his current book project is a history of a religious war among German immigrants in 19th-century Brazil. He also is editing a book on evidence, theory and advocacy in global health.