Collaborative research on text messages helps map out HIV prevention in India

Over the last decade, epidemiologist John Schneider has worked with Indian health organizations and health care providers, treating some of the India’s highest-risk populations, and even working with a trucking company to better understand the spread of HIV.

The key, he has learned, may lie in an innocuous and inexpensive bit of technology: the text message. Whereas landlines are expensive and other forms of technology are scarce, people’s social networks revolve around the use of their cell phones, and studying the text messages of men and women at risk for HIV infection in southern India can help paint a map of risk and prevention opportunities.


Schneider, a network epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist in Medicine and Health Studies, has since adapted this methodology to help prevent HIV in the United States, including working to understand how Facebook is used in at-risk populations.

Schneider, director of the Center for Global Health, spoke about his collaborations Monday at the announcement of the University of Chicago Center in Delhi—a platform he believes will help support the work he and colleagues in India have been developing.


Schneider has spent a decade working in India, including a two-year fellowship that allowed him to live in Hyderabad. He oversees several National Institutes of Health-funded research projects that are advancing HIV prevention among some of the highest-risk community members in South India. 

He also has taught more than 5,000 medical students in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who participated in his “HIV Elective” curriculum. As director of the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination, his goal is to end new HIV transmission events in the United States over a 30-year period.

In pursuit of that goal, he has created longtime partnerships with the Public Health Foundation of India, Science Health Allied Research Education (SHARE-India), as well as the Sivanandam Rehabilitation Home. SRH is a space for people with leprosy and is an AIDS orphanage that also provides testing for tuberculosis. Schneider also has developed a partnership with Gati, one of the largest transportation companies in India.

At the University of Chicago, he has worked with colleagues at the Booth School of Business to study networks and also has collaborated with colleagues at the School of Social Service Administration and the Harris School of Public Policy.

“It is that emphasis on liberal arts—on interdisciplinary collaboration—that has really informed and strengthened what I do as a public health epidemiologist,” Schneider said, “That is how we get new ideas and new ways of doing things.”