Graduate Leads Innovative Global Work On HIV Self-Testing

By Ashton Brasher

Cheryl Johnson’s groundbreaking work is creating ripple effects internationally.

As a Georgia State undergraduate student, Johnson first earned a degree in International Economics and Modern Language with a focus on German. She served as an Emerging Leader, a member of the Spotlight Programs Board, and a judiciary in the Student Government Association—all of this on top of being an active member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and a student assistant in the Dean of Student’s office. Needless to say, Johnson liked to stay busy and her momentum has only grown.

After earning her master’s degree in anthropology and a certificate of Public Health from Georgia State in 2011, Johnson accepted a position as a Global Health Fellow, where she had the opportunity to intern at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“As an intern I was tasked to learn everything I could about HIV self-testing and what the implications might be for global health,” she said. “In the process, I found my passion for HIV testing and innovative approaches, like self-testing, to improve global access to health services.”

In 2013, Johnson accepted a job with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide technical support on HIV testing services and lead the emerging work globally on HIV self-testing.

Her time with the WHO has been nothing short of dynamic. “One of the most rewarding parts of my career has been the development of the WHO Consolidated Guidelines on HIV testing services, which includes new approaches like self-testing and allowing lay provider HIV testing services,” she said. “It was incredible to be a part of developing these guidelines and presenting the latest evidence on HIV self-testing at the International AIDS Society’s Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention.”

Johnson has also taken leadership on the largest international study on HIV self-testing to date.

“Although there is much more work ahead,” she said, “this implementation science study will be critical for the development of global guidance and effective implementation and scale-up of HIV self-testing.”

Cheryl Johnson’s work has worldwide impact — and the world is taking notice. Having not even reached the mid-point of her career, Johnson has already been featured on the Forbes 2016 list of 30 under 30 for Healthcare.

“The most rewarding part of working with WHO has been the opportunity to connect and collaborate with so many communities, policy makers and health experts all over the world; and to work together to improve health outcomes and the provision of quality health services every single day,” she said.

Illustration by Adam Cruft