The multilingual and structured vocabulary DeCS – Health Sciences Descriptors – was created by BIREME to serve as a unique language in indexing articles from scientific journals, books, congress proceedings, technical reports, and other types of materials, as well as for searching and retrieving subjects from scientific literature from information sources available on the Virtual Health Library (VHL) such as LILACS, MEDLINE, and others.
It was developed from the MeSH – Medical Subject Headings of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) with the purpose of permitting the use of common terminology for searching in multiple languages, providing a consistent and unique environment for the retrieval of information.
DeCS is part of the LILACS Methodology and is an integrating component of the Virtual Health Library.
DeCS participates in the unified terminology development project, UMLS – Unified Medical Language System of the NLM, with the responsibility of contributing with the MeSH terms in Portuguese and Spanish.
BIREME also developed terminology in specific areas such as Public Health, Homeopathy, Science and Health, and Health Surveillance in addition to the original MeSH terms.
The concepts that characterize the DeCS vocabulary are organized in a tree structure allowing a search on broader or narrower terms or on all terms from the same tree within the hierarchical structure.
DeCS is a dynamic vocabulary totaling 34,294 descriptors and 77 qualifiers, of which 29,993 come from MeSH, and 4,378 are exclusively DeCS. These DeCS exclusive descriptors have 7,859 hierarchic codes, of which 2,592 are added to 1,844 MeSH descriptors. The following are the DeCS categories and their total number of descriptors: Health Surveillance (823); Homeopathy (1,912), Public Health (3,612); and Science and Health (245). The sum is greater than the total number of descriptors, since a descriptor may occur more than once in the hierarchy. By being dynamic, it records a permanent process of change including the development of new areas of terminology.
With the creation of the national, institutional and thematic VHLs, search strategies were made available in the various topics in order to facilitate the retrieval of the existing literature.
The updating annually performed in MeSH and the modifications also carried out in the other DeCS categories demand the revision and update of the search strategies on the thematic areas of each BVS, especially the ones including hierarchical codes. Therefore, it is advised that the team responsible for their creation also make sure that these strategies can be revised annually before implementing them. Read text on how to revise strategies used in searching thematic areas of a VHL.
In addition to the NLM, which governs annual updates, BIREME/PAHO/WHO has the support of the following partners in the development and updating of DeCS/MeSH:
- Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad de Chile for the translation of concepts into American Spanish;
- Instituto de Salud Carlos III for the translation of concepts into European Spanish;
- Institut National de la Santé et de Recherche Médicale, INSERM, that provides the translation of MeSH concepts to French; and
- L‘Université de Rouen, Normandie, for the translation into French of concepts in exclusive DeCS categories.
For more information see the DeCS wiki page.
Date of last update: June, 2021