Background: In the greater framework of the essential functions of Public Health, our focus is on a systematic, objective, external evaluation of Latin American scientific output, to compare its publications in the area of Public Health with those of other major geographic zones. We aim to describe the regional distribution of output in Public Health, and the level of visibility and specialization, for Latin America; it can then be characterized and compared in the international context.
Methods: The primary source of information was the Scopus database, using the category "Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health", in the period 1996-2011. Data were obtained through the portal of SCImago Journal and Country Rank. Using a set of qualitative (citation-based), quantitative (document recount) and collaborative (authors from more than one country) indicators, we derived complementary data. The methodology serves as an analytical tool for researchers and scientific policy-makers.
Results: The contribution of Latin America to the arsenal of world science lies more or less midway on the international scale in terms of its output and visibility. Revealed as its greatest strengths are the high level of specialization in Public Health and the sustained growth of output. The main limitations identified were a relative decrease in collaboration and low visibility.
Conclusions: Collaboration is a key factor behind the development of scientific activity in Latin America. Although this finding can be useful for formulating research policy in Latin American countries, it also underlines the need for further research into patterns of scientific communication in this region, to arrive at more specific recommendations.