BIREME Bulletin n°6: Special issue 50th anniversary

The technological evolution

BIREME’s technical cooperation has been evolving with successive scientific communication and information management models, and is now making intensive use of information technologies (IT), by means of developing innovative products and services aligned with international advances and standards and by exercising its mission to democratize access, publication and use of information, knowledge, and scientific evidence.

The first period corresponds to its establishment in 1967 up to the end of the 1970’s, based on the essential functions of a medical library. The second period, which extends to mid-1980’s, expanded the cooperation for bibliographic control and indexing of scientific and technical health sciences literature in Latin American and the Caribbean (LA&C), transforming the Regional Medicine Library into the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information. The third period – from the end of the 1980’s to the beginning of the 1990’s –  represents the decentralization of bibliographic control by means of the development of the Latin-American and Caribbean System on Health Sciences Information, formed by a national coordinating institution in each LA&C country and strengthening the bibliographic database LILACS. The fourth period started in the end of the 1990’s, with the adoption of the web as the platform to produce health scientific and technical sources of information, having as its landmark the launching of the Virtual Health Library (VHL) in 1998, upon the Declaration of San José, Costa Rica – Towards the Virtual Health Library – approved during the 4th Regional Health Sciences Information Congress (CRICS4) [1].

These periods also feature the evolution of IT and how BIREME adopted it to enhance its work and expand its functions.

Some landmarks are listed below, showing how BIREME employed technology on behalf of technical cooperation in the last 50 years:

  • In 1972, BIREME joined the electronic information world by using an Olivetti terminal, operating through Intelsat satellite with NLM in MEDLINE system (former MEDLARS). This system worked with a collection of 2,300 journals, located in 180 medical libraries operating in the United States, nine in Canada and in England, and one in France;
  • In 1974, the system went on-line, with a MEDLINE database installed in an IBM computer at the then IEA (acronym in Portuguese for Atomic Energy Institute – USP) and terminals acquired by the UNDP (United Nations Development Program). The system started to be also operated in the states of Minas Gerais, Bahia, Espírito Santo, and Pernambuco in August 1975, all connected to the same computer;
  • In 1977, the arrival of a minicomputer to BIREME enables the development of library automation systems, IMLA (Latin-American Medical Index) – the precursor of LILACS (Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature), and RNPT (National Register of Tumor Pathology) – a system to register diagnoses of cancer performed by laboratories throughout Brazil;
  • In the mid 1980’s, as mentioned Adalberto O. Tardelli, a former BIREME’s director, “BIREME benefited from the advance of information technologies, adopting the MINISIS platform of the IDRC (International Development and Research Centre, Canada) to centrally disseminate information from LILACS and MEDLINE. The use of microcomputers and the CDS/ISIS platform of UNESCO enabled bibliographic data entries decentralized from LILACS regional database and from SeCS collective catalog, as well as information dissemination by means of LILACS CD-ROM. With CISIS own interface project and development, it also succeeded to disseminate the international database MEDLINE in CD-ROM”; and
  • In 1990, as described by Abel L. Packer, former director of BIREME, in the CRB8 Bulletin from Jan-Mar 1990, “… the CD-ROM is the ideal and revolutionary medium to disseminate information. Proof of that is the successful LILACS/CD-ROM project. With approximately 160 readers installed in the network centers, the Pan American Health Organization broke the economic and technological barriers that prevented the professional community to have fast, efficient, and cheap access to the literature generated in and outside the region. LILACS/CD-ROM is the most thorough and up-to-date database in health managed by BIREME…”.


As the Internet emerged and consolidated as the predominant medium of information and communication as from the mid 1990’s, BIREME has enhanced the development of information systems by making use of international standards and free and open software. These started to be considered a fundamental goal to expand its capabilities to manage, search, retrieve and use health-related information in LA&C countries, thereby reducing economic, technological, and human skill barriers, and enhancing the possibilities of reuse, collaboration, and innovation. In 2005, during the 4th VHL Regional Coordination Meeting, discussions in the workgroup “Information Technologies for Equitable Access to Information”[2] led to the following recommendation: BIREME should promote a Developers’ Information Technologies Network (RedDes) in order to support regional projects coordinated by BIREME itself, interoperability among its sources and flows of information, and the accessibility of its interfaces. In 2017, RedDes has more than 400 members registered in its mailing list and has already held three regional meetings (Cuba 2007 [3], Brazil 2008, [4] and US 2012 [5]), with extensive presentation, discussion, development, and adoption of methodologies and technologies in line with the international state-of-the-art.

In the past four years, BIREME engaged its best efforts to update the technological solutions used in its technical cooperation, adopting open, modern, and worldwide relevant technologies in data storage and retrieval, content management systems, web development, in addition to data quality and visualization. Its network of cooperating centers has also been promoting a change of paradigm, following the software as service (SaS) trend. For instance, if one wants to cooperate with LILACS, there is no longer the need to install and configure an application and keep it locally for cataloguing and indexing. Now, all this can be directly performed through an online service, available on the web, and hosted at BIREME.

With new trends and expressive advances related to big data, the internet of things, data science, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality, among others, new pathways of opportunities and challenges are posed to BIREME, pointing up to – perhaps – its next period.








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