BIREME is a specialized Center of PAHO/WHO for the technical cooperation in health sciences information and communication in the Region of the Americas.
Established in São Paulo, Brazil in 1967, its operations are geared to the development of national and regional capacity and infrastructure for the management, organization, indexing, preservation, and dissemination of, and the access to scientific information, knowledge and evidence, keeping abreast of international state-of-the-art related methodologies and technologies.
During 43 years, technical cooperation in health scientific information led by the PAHO through BIREME has made a significant contribution to the democratization of quality information in health, which is essential to health development and social inclusion in this Region.
The technical cooperation evolved through successive models of scientific information and communication. It is possible to identify the following periods:
First period: From its creation in 1967, as Regional Library of Medicine, until the end of the 1970s, BIREME's model of technical cooperation was based on the essential functions of the medical libraries, including human resources education in management and operation of libraries and documentation centers, local collection development, shared use of the collections among libraries, user services, bibliographic searches in MEDLINE database and interlibrary loan.
Second period: Since the end of the 1970s until the end of the 1980s, the model of technical cooperation was expanded, on one hand, with the new function of bibliographic control and indexing of the health literature published in Latin American and Caribbean scientific journals, and, on the other hand, expanding the thematic coverage in order to comprehend the whole domain of health sciences, with emphasis on public health. In 1979, BIREME launched the Index Medicus Latino-Americano (IMLA), indexing nearly 150 journals, complementing MEDLINE, which then included 44 titles of Latin America and the Caribbean. With the IMLA, BIREME began its prominent role to give regional and international visibility to the health scientific and technical production of Latin America and the Caribbean. This expansion of the cooperation model transformed BIREME in an information indexing center for the Region, which was reflected in the change of its orginal name of Regional Library of Medicine to Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information in 1982, remaining the acronym BIREME. During this period, the IMLA evolved to the bibliographic database called Latin American and Caribbean Literature on Health Sciences Information (LILACS), with emphasis on public health.
Third period: At the end of 1980s, BIREME promoted the decentralization, at the country level, of the functions of bibliographic control and indexing of the scientific production, the bibliographic search services and training of human resources. This decentralization was shaped in the Latin American and Caribbean System on Health Sciences Information, with a national coordinating institution in every country. This movement has meant a notable progress for the development of the national information capacities and infraestructures as well as on the development of managerial and technical human resources. In this period the development of LILACS evolved to a cooperative endeavour. At the end of the 1980s, BIREME promoted the use of computers in the libraries, both for the decentralized production of LILACS database and for the bibliographic search in CDROM and subsequently on-line. LILACS CD-ROM launched in 1988 was one of the first CD-ROM titles on scientific information produced in the world. Also in this period, BIREME enriched the methodologies for scientific information management with the launch and annual updating of the vocabulary Health Sciences Descriptors (DeCS), which contains the translation of the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) of the National Library of Medicine to Spanish and Portuguese languages, expanded with new descriptor categories in order to permit better indexing of the scientific and technical literature of the Region, especially public health and environment.
Fourth period:The period since the end of the 1990s and currently is well advanced and centered on the adoption of the Internet as the medium of production of information sources and flows. Technical cooperation is implemented by means of the Virtual Health Library (VHL), which was launched in March 1998, with the Declaration of San José Towards the Virtual Health Library, approved during the 4th Regional Congress on Health Sciences Information (CRICS4). In this Declaration the country representatives recognize that the access to information constitutes one of the central elements to reach equity in health; that the new information and communication technologies pose risks and opportunities for the human development in the Region and that the Latin American and Caribbean System on Health Sciences Information under the leadership of BIREME has the capability for the control of these technologies, adapting them to the reality of the region. Based on these premises, they made the commitment to cooperatively built the Virtual Health Library, in order to strengthen capabilities and infrastructures and to facilitate the broad access to the information for the permanent improvement of the health and for sustainable human development of the region. At the same time, BIREME cooperated with FAPESP (State of São Paulo Research Foundation) from Brazil, on the establishement the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) as a model for open access cooperative electronic publishing of scientific journals on the Internet.
The VHL represents a notable innovation that has contributed to systematically update of the Region research, education and health care systems scientific information, knowledge and evidence related methodologies, technologies, products and contemporary services and taking into considerationthe social, economic and cultural conditions of the Region. The operation of the VHL and associated networks has radically contributed to the visibility, access, use, and impact of the information sources from Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as to the access to the international reference information sources. In 2009, the monthly average access to the regional site of the VHL and associated networks reached 16 million accesses and in the whole network it is estimated in more than 20 million accesses, which reveals that the VHL is one of the main world initiatives in scientific and technical information.