What are the unintended health consequences of America’s “war on drugs” and high incarceration rates? How can communities respond to AIDS and other epidemics through better coordination, and not just more resources?

These are questions addressed by social epidemiology. In his research, Dr. Thomas has shown that:

  • Communities affected by high incarceration rates experience more teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  • Communities where organizations coordinate their efforts experience lower rates of STIs.

  • A network of HIV care organizations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was able to improve patient satisfaction with services by improving their referrals between organizations.

His research on community factors affecting disease control continues in several low-to-middle income countries.


Lead instructor of the following courses

Perspectives in Epidemiology and Public Health (2015- )

Fundamentals of Epidemiology (2006-2010)

Social Epidemiology: Concepts and Measures (2002-2013)

Public Health Ethics (2000-2011)

Methods in the Study and Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (1990-1999)


Received the School of Public Health McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2009

Nominated for the UNC award for graduate-level teaching in 2008

Selected Publications

Thomas JC, Agala CB, Xiong K, Powell RA. Improving referrals for HIV care through organizational network analysis. J Public Health management Practice 2019 25(3):E36–E44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/PHH.0000000000000839.

Thomas JC. Contextual factors affecting health information system strengthening. Global Public Health. 2016;1-11. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17441692.2016.1256419.

Thomas JC, Reynolds H, Bevc C, Alterescu X, Tsegaye A. Improving referrals and integrating family planning and HIV services through organizational network strengthening. Health Policy and Planning 2015 https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czv058.

Tumlinson K, Thomas JC, Reynolds H. The effect of women’s property rights on HIV: A search for quantitative evidence. AIDS Care 2015 27;112-22.

Thomas JC, Hardee K, Parks A, et al. Global action networks in health: A case study of data quality. Global Health Governance 2014 VII:80-95.

Thomas JC, Torrone E, Browning C. Neighborhood characteristics affecting sexually transmitted disease rates in Chicago. J Urban Health 2010;87:102-12.

Thomas JC, Torrone E, Levandowski B, Isler M. Pulling together: Interagency coordination for HIV prevention in ten North Carolina counties. J Public Health Management and Practice 2008;14:E1-6.

Thomas JC, Torrone E. Incarceration as forced migration: Selected community health effects. Am J Public Health 2006;96:1762-5.

In the Media

(Banner photo of Rio de Janiero by Jim Thomas)

Distribution of incarceration rates in Durham County, NC. From Thomas JC, et al. J Urban Health 2008.


Dr. Thomas’s work on network strengthening sought to improve the experience of women seeking care for HIV or reproductive health. (Photo by Elizabeth T. Robinson)


The network of organizations referring patients to each other for the care for people with HIV in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.