Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Maxim helps countries fight pandemics

Corina Maxim

Corina Maxim's job fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is a study in contrasts.

As a program officer with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the 2009 alum works with programs in the Central African Republic and Tunisia.

"Making an investment case for CAR is a real challenge, despite the country's enormous need," says Maxim, who is based in Geneva, Switzerland, "given the lack of country data, weak management capacity and health systems, and extreme risk and insecurity, which are aggravated by the recent military-political (turned into ethnic) conflict."

Despite the challenges, in 2013 alone, Maxim's agency disbursed almost US$18 million for programs in CAR. "We also managed to secure approval of the continuation of our malaria grant (under a new principal recipient) in the amount of US$20 million, to support a mass campaign to distribute long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, and to diagnosis and treat malaria," Maxim says.

In contrast, Tunisia has strong technical and management capacity, health systems are in place, and epidemics are concentrated to a few high-risk groups. "In managing expiring US$4.8 million tuberculosis and US$19 million HIV grants, the main challenge is to ensure an increased government contribution to our programs and the sustainability of the achieved impact," Maxim says. "Tunisia is expected to be one of the first wave countries to access HIV funding through the GFATM new funding model rolled out this year."

 "Changing this world even a tiny bit is so hard," Maxim says. "When I get tired or frustrated or fed up, I try to remember that what we do is for an overall good reason. I am not sure I would have the same 'escape' route in the private sector."

Corina Maxim and three men in front of the district hospital in Mbaikia, Central African Republic

Corina Maxim visited the district hospital in Mbaikia, Central African Republic, as part of her work with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Maxim is part of a country team that includes specialists in procurement, monitoring and evaluation, finance and legal affairs. "The team supports the delivery of GFATM's primary business: grant management that leads to the mitigation of the impact of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria," Maxim says. "As a financial organization, GFATM aims to invest funds to achieve impact by leveraging country ownership and partnerships. Our presence in countries is limited to work missions, and we rely on local fund agents, which are usually large international audit companies, and country partners for recommendations and verification of results."

Maxim started with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as an associate information management officer after completing her Master of International Public Affairs degree in September 2009. She completed her undergraduate work in international economic relations in 2005 at the Academy of Economic Studies in Moldova, where she is from.

After working as a communications officer for UNAIDS, a United Nations program seeking universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, Maxim enrolled at the La Follette School in 2007. "When I started at La Follette, I wanted to work for an international organization in health development, and I got exactly what I wanted, she says. "What I loved most about La Follette and being in a small program that was part of a big university was the fact that we could focus our studies on whatever interests we had. I learned so much each day from my peers and my professors, just as much, if not more, than in the classroom."

While a student at La Follette, Maxim had a fellowship and worked as a freight analyst for Spectrum Brands in Madison. For the summer between her two academic years, she interned in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Resources and Technology in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under 1998 La Follette alum Matt Cutler. "He was a great mentor and I learned a lot during that summer work experience," Maxim says. "I have to add that that internship would not have been possible without the scholarship support and the references I got from La Follette."

During her second year, Maxim had a project assistantship. "If I remember correctly, I had to do a review of research on a subject related to education," she says. "I am not sure it fits with what I do now exactly. But again, it is not the 'what' you do that matters, but 'how' you do. Organizing your work, learning fast, prioritizing, analyzing information, delivering on time, etc. is the experience that helps you succeed, as the rest can be learned on the job."

"I think the greatest asset you can get at La Follette is the confidence in yourself," Maxim adds. "I remember applying for over 50 jobs following graduation and knowing with certainty that I will find a job I like. La Follette taught me how to think critically in a world of intricate interests and uncertainty, and for that I am most thankful."