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Networking to End HIV

John Schneider, MD, MPH
John Schneider, MD, MPH, is analyzing social networks of men who have sex with men to identify key individuals who can help spread information about safer sex behavior.

John Schneider, MD, MPH, is pioneering a new use for cell phones -- preventing the spread of HIV. By analyzing social networks of men who have sex with men (MSM), Schneider can pinpoint key individuals to disseminate information about how to prevent HIV transmission, and new HIV infections.

When he first arrived in India in 2002, "No one was asking the real questions about sex and how HIV was spreading through the population," Schneider said. So in June 2010, Schneider, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology and director of global health programs at the Medical Center, launched a full network analysis of an MSM population in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.

Schneider and his team used cell phones to download contact lists from participants, combing through each contact to determine important characteristics that might be related to HIV transmission or prevention. These contact lists were then linked to create a large communications network.

Schneider’s team divided the contacts into "popular" and "bridge" people. Popular people have the most connections while bridge people link two different groups together and are usually more open to the innovation of ideas and methods, and likely more receptive to adopting more healthful sex practices.

With the networks mapped, the team awaits additional funding to return to India and provide those identified as popular and bridging with peer outreach training, and send them out to spread preventative information about safer sex behavior and pre-exposure prophylaxis.

Schneider is also applying social network analysis to at-risk male communities on the South Side of Chicago. But instead of cell phones, he’s using Facebook. Unlike phones in India, pre-paid cell phones frequently used by MSM populations on the South Side do not have SIM cards that retain contact lists. One’s Facebook alias, however, remains constant, allowing Schneider to map out networks through friend lists.

The local side of the project is still in its infancy, with three participants enrolled. In the end, Schneider is hopeful that what started 30 years ago with the first known case of HIV will end, with a little help from friends.

World AIDS Day Mini-Ball at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago Medical Center is hosting a World AIDS Day Mini-Ball on Dec. 2 from 7 p.m. to midnight in support of the ongoing fight to promote HIV prevention and treatment. For more information, please contact Dianna Douglas at (773) 702-3641.

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