More Than a Pretty Face: Dr. Anja Giphart

Dr. Anja Giphart
(Image credit: Marie Claire)

Name: Dr. Anja Giphart

Age: 42

Job: Country director, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Location: Tanzania

Notable quote: "The worst days are when I see young people dying from a preventable disease."

Mention the AIDS crisis in Africa, and most Western doctors shake their heads over the 25 million people-including 2 million children-who are now infected. But where others see doom, Dutch-born Anja Giphart finds hope. As the head doctor for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in Tanzania, her motto is simple: one by one.

Q: You're a long way from home.


When I was in medical school, I got an internship in South Africa and traveled a lot throughout the continent. I knew I wanted to come back. In Holland, health care is accessible to everybody. If I practiced medicine back home, I'd be just another doctor. In Africa, I'm needed more. My skills can make a difference.

Q: How did you get interested in AIDS?


Part of it had to do with feeling frustrated by seeing all these severely ill adults and children infected with the disease — a disease that can be prevented. My job now is twofold: the care and treatment of HIV-positive kids, and heading up the mother-to-child transmission prevention program, so babies are not born infected. 


(Image credit: Melanie Chambers)

Q: Is living in Tanzania a culture shock?


The living conditions vary widely. Dar es Salaam, the capital, where I live, is almost a Western city. You can get anything you want — there are restaurants, clothing stores, and so on-as long as you have the money. The rural regions are much more basic. We have clinics in four regions of the country.

Q: How has your family adjusted?


My husband is American, and he's working with a local NGO that teaches polio victims welding skills and how to make art out of scrap metal. We have three children, all adopted. Two are from Mozambique, where I worked before Tanzania. The mother of our second child died at the hospital where I was working. We wanted to reunite the boy with his father, but the father left the hospital and never came back. So my husband and I adopted him.

Q: What's surprising about AIDS in Tanzania?


That it's the educated and better-off people who are becoming infected at the fastest rate. Poor people don't travel; they are isolated in their rural villages. It's the people with more economic means, who travel from city to city, who are coming in contact with the virus and, unfortunately, spreading it in their communities.

Q: Is it going to get worse?


The prevalence of AIDS in Tanzania is lower than in southern Africa. The new issue has to do with antiretroviral drugs; today, people are living with AIDS for years. So how do we care for them? For now, by making sure every person has access to a health-care provider and accurate information about the treatment program to stay healthy.

Click here to purchase the bag shown above to support the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.