Sociology major Evelyn Castle
Health sciences major Evelyn Castle (’12) on her last day at the health clinic in Kaduna, Nigeria. The clinic’s new records room includes two computers.

Over at eHealth Nigeria there is a new press release by the UC Santa Cruz Public Relations called “Students forging a new frontier in global health”.

Growing up, Evelyn Castle rarely journeyed beyond California’s borders. Foreign travel was a completely foreign concept.

So the Orange County native and second-year health sciences major at UC Santa Cruz didn’t waste any time on her first trip abroad. During a three-month-long project last summer at a health clinic in Nigeria–part of the UCSC Global Information Internship Program (GIIP)–Castle was instrumental in creating Nigeria’s first electronic medical records system.

Strictly speaking, the effort was part of a field study program, but it resembled more the work of a graduate student, or an international NGO, Castle’s advisors say.

That’s because the pilot project, with financial backing from heavyweights such as the Packard and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, has the potential to be replicated throughout sub-Saharan Africa–and, Castle hopes, it could ultimately revolutionize the way health information is managed, helping millions of women and children with very little extra required in terms of time, resources, and money.

Castle spent her first month hanging around the clinic in Kaduna, seeing how it was run and gaining people’s trust. After that, she hunted down several small, low-cost computers and spent her afternoons converting paper forms into computerized ones using the HTML design skills she learned in class at UCSC.

She taught data entry to the clinic staff, and was rewarded daily with large home-cooked meals and chauffeured rides back home in an ambulance to the Nigerian family she stayed with.

With computerized record keeping, medical histories are clearer and more reliable. Now, for example, if a sonogram shows that the position of a fetus puts the mother at risk during birth, there’s no chance that the information will be lost or illegible when she goes into labor.

Also with electronic records, the process of sending monthly reports to the government is cut from weeks to seconds. Before, filing monthly reports meant sifting through thousands of paper records to tally simple data required by the Ministry of Health.

“It was surprising to see that there was this need that we could fix with pretty simple technology,” said Castle, 21. “It just took a lot of improvisation.”