Home Institution

Brown University

Publication Date

Spring 2016

Program Name

Switzerland: Global Health and Development Policy


This paper explores the connections between needle exchange programs and rates of HIV/AIDS in Switzerland and the United States of America. While these two countries are very similar in their general political philosophies, they have some key cultural and historical differences which has shaped their responses to HIV/AIDS and injection drug use. Switzerland’s unique experience with a very open injection drug use scene in the 1980s guided this country to a more pragmatic, harm reduction-based response. By contrast, United States responded to the AIDS epidemic that struck violently in the 1980s with a mix of fear and denial. Though both generally conservative countries, Switzerland has a history of being independent and pragmatic. The U.S., on the other hand, has built an international identity on its Puritanical roots and seeks global influence through repressive drug measures. As such, needle exchange programs have been widely implemented in Switzerland but their growth is stunted in the United States. The unfortunate result is that the USA has not been able to contain injection drug use or the AIDS epidemic to anywhere near the same extent has Switzerland.

All the experts interviewed for this paper were speaking with regards to their own personal opinion. Their statements in no way reflect the official positions of the organizations for which they work.


Chemicals and Drugs | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Comparative Politics | International Public Health


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