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Open Access Research article

Health problems among detainees in Switzerland: a study using the ICPC-2 classification

Hans Wolff1*, Paul Sebo2, Dagmar M Haller1, Ariel Eytan3, Gérard Niveau4, Dominique Bertrand1, Laurent Gétaz1 and Bernard Cerutti5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of community medicine and primary care, Geneva University Hospitals and University of Geneva, Switzerland

2 Primary Care Practice, Thônex, Switzerland

3 Department of psychiatry, Geneva University Hospitals and University of Geneva, Switzerland

4 Institute of legal medicine; University of Geneva, Switzerland

5 Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:245  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-245

Published: 19 April 2011



Little is known about the health status of prisoners in Switzerland. The aim of this study was to provide a detailed description of the health problems presented by detainees in Switzerland's largest remand prison.


In this retrospective cross-sectional study we reviewed the health records of all detainees leaving Switzerland's largest remand prison in 2007. The health problems were coded using the International Classification for Primary Care (ICPC-2). Analyses were descriptive, stratified by gender.


A total of 2195 health records were reviewed. Mean age was 29.5 years (SD 9.5); 95% were male; 87.8% were migrants. Mean length of stay was 80 days (SD 160). Illicit drug use (40.2%) and mental health problems (32.6%) were frequent, but most of these detainees (57.6%) had more generic primary care problems, such as skin (27.0%), infectious diseases (23.5%), musculoskeletal (19.2%), injury related (18.3%), digestive (15.0%) or respiratory problems (14.0%). Furthermore, 7.9% reported exposure to violence during arrest by the police.


Morbidity is high in this young, predominantly male population of detainees, in particular in relation to substance abuse. Other health problems more commonly seen in general practice are also frequent. These findings support the further development of coordinated primary care and mental health services within detention centers.

Primary care; prisoners; detainees; jail; ICPC; coding; access to care; prison health care