Phyllis Kanki
Primary Faculty

Phyllis Kanki

Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences

Immunology and Infectious Diseases


My research centers on the virology, molecular epidemiology of HIV in Africa along with implementation science work to improve HIV outcomes. I have worked in West Africa since the 1980s and in 2000, I created and directed the AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN), with a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Since 2004, I led the Harvard President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) providing prevention, care and HIV antiretroviral therapy in Nigeria, Botswana, and Tanzania. In addition to the capacity building for clinical, laboratory and research capabilities, the program provided treatment for over 160,000 AIDS patients. The PEPFAR program in Nigeria has developed an extensive electronic medical record system that provides real time access to >100,000 patients on antiretroviral treatment. These databases allow us to promote better clinical care and also to answer operational research questions dealing with the efficacy of ART and PMTCT interventions and modulators of this response. Along with Nigerian colleagues, my research group has addressed topics including with HIV co-infections, determinants of ART efficacy and evaluation of PMTCT interventions. In an effort to optimize HIV outcomes we have characterized losses to follow-up in HIV care, treatment and PMTCT interventions and HIV drug resistance. I am currently co-PI for a trial of point of care HIV viral load monitoring to enhance ART outcomes and retention on ART in Nigeria.

My long-term research collaborations in West Africa have also incorporated training and research capacity building. I served as the co-principal investigator of the Harvard School of Public Health AITRIP (1988-2013) and I currently lead the Harvard component for NIH Medical Education Partnership Initiatives (MEPI) at the University of Ibadan, Jos and Lagos. These programs seek to enhance research capacity for junior faculty. I have provided mentoring for more than 60 doctoral students or fellows from the US and African countries and I am an honorary faculty member at the University of Ibadan and University of Jos in Nigeria.

Following the previous epidemics of Ebola and Zika virus, we have documented the presence of ZIKV infection in Senegalese and Nigerian fever patients over ~ 25 years, demonstrating the endemicity of this unique arbovirus in the region. We have described the longevity, specificity and cross reactivity of T cell responses to ZIKV and DENV NS3. We have also characterized the T cell responses in survivors and exposed health care workers from the 2015 Nigeria EBOV outbreak. We are currently conducting an NIH funded study on the impact of Zika virus infection on pregnancy outcomes in Nigeria.

In response to the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, I am working with e25Bio an MIT engine laboratory towards development of point of care antigen and antibody assays as well as a pan-subgroup 2b betacoronavirus assays that may serve as zoonotic surveillance tool for future emergent SARS-like viruses.

D.V.M. , 1982
University of Minnesota School of Veterinary Medicine

D.Sc., 1985
Harvard School of Public Health