Switzerland: a snapshot of prison health

There are 26 different prison health-care systems in Switzerland, one for each canton. Access to health services is not the same everywhere. Prison health in Switzerland faces four key challenges.

Homogenizing the quality of care

A complicated interaction between stakeholders makes it difficult to have a homogeneous approach. There are large prisons with a wide range of health services, but also prisons with very scarce resources. Harm reduction is an essential issue, but only 13 out of 115 prisons have syringe-exchange programmes.

A project in Geneva won a 2011 “WHO Health in Prisons Best Practice Award”. The Federal Office of Public Health coordinates an innovative programme to improve coordination, training and epidemiological surveillance of infectious diseases.

Too many small prisons

Larger prisons would allow for effective health care services. Small prisons (< 50 places) are not staffed with health care professionals every day, which reduces access to health care.

Training of health professionals

A specialized training course for nurses and doctors was set up in Geneva in 2012. Training and clear procedures for the health services for prisoners will, it is hoped, lead to improvements.

Imprisonment policy

Problems result from the imprisonment of more people for minor offenses. Overcrowding is intolerable and leads to suffering, for both the inmates and professionals working in prison.

Facts and figures

  • Total country population (2010): 7.8 million
  • Number of prisoners: 6181
  • Prisoners/inhabitants: 80/100 000
  • HIV in prisons: < 1%
  • Hepatitis C in prisons: 6.9%
  • Tuberculosis in prisons: 10–50/100 000 (estimate)