The work: In the 1980s, HIV/AIDS was largely viewed as a homosexual disease. Throughout the 1980s, Dr. Frank Plummer conducted research, facilitated by the University of Manitoba, on a large cohort of Nairobi sex workers which found that two thirds of them had HIV/AIDS which was astonishing at the time. He also showed that about ten percent of these sex workers remain HIV uninfected despite multiple exposures. This identification of natural resistance to HIV has guided vaccine development strategies. He further went on to conduct work on mechanisms of resistance to HIV, risk factors for heterosexual transmission of HIV, mother-to-child transmission of HIV and developed public health strategies for control of sexually transmitted infections. Further research showed that many groups in addition to these female sex workers are immune to HIV. Over the next 16 years, Dr. Plummer remained in Nairobi, and this led to a series of investigations, international collaborations and some very important discoveries about the susceptibility to HIV infection and transmissibility.
The impact: His original and sustained contributions in this field have led to innovative strategies for HIV prevention at an internationally recognized level, and are being used around the world to prevent many thousands of HIV infections. Dr. Plummer, Distinguished Professor, University of Manitoba, is a pioneering HIV/AIDS researcher thanks to not only his ground-breaking work but also his leadership as Scientific Director General at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg leading their response to numerous outbreaks including his support and contributions to the development of the Ebola vaccine programs in Canada, SARS treatment in 2003 and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza outbreak.
Dr. Plummer is a native Manitoban and received his medical degree from the University of Manitoba in 1976. He trained in internal medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Southern California, the University of Manitoba, the University of Nairobi, and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. He joined the University of Manitoba faculty in 1984 and spent 17 years in Nairobi as the leader of the world-renowned Manitoba Nairobi collaboration. From 2000-2014 he was Scientific Director of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, building it into a globally preeminent public health laboratory.
Dr. Plummer is recognized internationally for his work in public health and science, having published over 375 high impact original articles. He has received numerous honors, including; Officer of the Order of Canada, Order of Manitoba, Killam Prize; Prix Galien; two honorary degrees.; Rh Institute Award; Achievement Award from the American Venereal Disease Association; I.S. Ravdin Award, American College of Surgeons; St. Boniface Hospital Research Foundation International Award; Canadian Institutes of Health Research Researcher of the Year 2007; Scopus Award, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has been elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians and advised has the National Academy of Sciences in the US, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the Governments of Kenya, India and Lesotho.