Jim Thomas

James Thomas, PhD, MPH

Professor Emeritus
Department of Epidemiology
123 W. Franklin Street
Suite 330
Building C
Chapel Hill, NC 27516


Dr. Thomas' work in public health spans more than 40 years and 35 countries. His principal interests are in social forces underlying epidemics, global health, ethical concerns in digital surveillance and the ethical practice of public health in a pandemic.

In addition to his many scholarly articles, he was an editor and author of a textbook on epidemiologic methods in the study of infectious diseases and principal author of the initial American Public Health Association’s Code of Ethics.

As director of the MEASURE Program, Dr. Thomas led a global team that advanced the capacity of more than 50 developing countries to monitor their epidemics.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Thomas is advising government planning groups, speaking and writing on pandemic ethics, and has created an online Pandemic Ethics Dashboard as a resource for policymakers.

James Thomas in the Gillings News

Honors and Awards

Erasmus Mundus Visiting Professor Scholarship
2020, Europubhealth+ summer session, Rennes, France

McGravran Award for Excellence in Teaching
2009, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

2005, Parr Center for Ethics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Moister Fellow of Ethics
2002, University of North Carolina Institute for the Arts and Humanities

Teaching Interests

  • Global health 2019-
  • Global health ethics 2020-
  • Data in pubic health 2020

Research Activities

Dr. Thomas is currently studying ethical issues in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, he was researching ethical issues in the use of digital surveillance technologies for public health (which he studies now in the context of COVID-19.)

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Dr. Thomas studied social forces underlying epidemic transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, primarily in North Carolina. Two topics of particular interest were the effects of high rates of incarceration on low-income communities, and how network interactions among service providers affect disease control in a community. After 2010, he returned to his international roots, principally with the application of network analysis research to HIV control in developing countries.

Service Activities

During the COVID-19 pandemic Dr. Thomas created and maintained an online Pandemic Ethics Dashboard as a resources for policymakers worldwide.

In his current position as director of the USAID-funded MEASURE Evaluation Project, he participates in global meetings to set priorities and agendas for strengthening health information systems used to guide public health in developing countries.

Dr. Thomas founded and directed a non-profit organization called Africa Rising that enabled African community-based organizations (CBOs) to increase their capacity and impact through networking with other African CBOs. He also was co-founder of a non-profit that serves families affected by incarceration in Durham, North Carolina.

Practice Activities

Much of Dr. Thomas' research is intended to affect the practice of public health. His research on ethical responses to a pandemic informs the policies in states, cities and counties throughout the United States. Similarly, his contribution to the creation of a public health code of ethics guides national and state public health organizations.

When researching sexually transmitted diseases in rural North Carolina, Dr. Thomas’ method was community-based and participatory, leading to a lay health adviser program to decrease STDs. And his organizational network analysis of HIV-related service providers in developing countries is often used by the local communities to improve their service coordination and disease control.

Key Publications

Ethical pandemic control through the lens of the public health code of ethics. Thomas JC, Dasgupta N. (2020). Am J Public Health, 110(8), 1171-2.

A code of ethics for public health. Thomas JC, Sage M, Dillenberg J, Guillory VJ (2002). American Journal of Public Health, 92(7), 1057-1059.

Contextual factors affecting receptivity to an information culture. Thomas JC (2017). Global Public Health, 1-11.

Improving referrals and integrating family planning and HIV services through organizational network strengthening. Thomas JC, Reynolds HW, Alterescu X, Bevc C, Tsegaye A (2015). Health Policy and Planning, 30.

Neighborhood factors affecting rates of sexually transmitted diseases in Chicago. Christopher Browning, James Thomas, Elizabeth Torrone (2010). Journal of Urban Health, 87(1), 102-112.

Incarceration as forced migration: Effects on selected community health outcomes. James Thomas, Elizabeth Torrone (2006). American Journal of Public Health, 96(10), 1762-1765.

Things ain't what they ought to be: Social forces underlying racial disparities in rates of sexually transmitted diseases in a rural North Carolina county. Karen Thomas, James Thomas (1999). Social Science and Medicine, 49(8), 1075-1084.


  • N/A, Ethics and Theology, Fuller Seminary (during a sabbatical from UNC), 1998
  • PhD, Epidemiology, University of California, 1987
  • MPH, Population Health, University of California, 1982
  • BS, Nutrition Science, University of California, 1977
  • AA, Basic studies, Foothill Community College, California, 1974