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To provide an overview of needle exchange programme (NEP) models used in China and factors associated with their use by injecting drug users (IDU).A cross-sectional survey.Fifteen NEP in Sichuan and Guangxi provinces were selected for study. The managers were asked to complete a short questionnaire and participate in an interview about the services offered, including needle turnover rates, number of clients, and use of peer educators. The local senior police officers were interviewed for their points of views about NEP. Finally, drug users using the NEP and those residents in compulsory detoxification centres were surveyed about using NEP services.The NEP offered services during normal working hours and used peer educators to do additional exchanging that involved secondary exchangers in the community. Needle turnover ranged from 70.1% to over 100%. Most attendees (82.3%) knew about the service through friends, but only 7.3% of local IDU were using the services. Peer educators could get almost all the needles they needed, but secondary exchangers could only get approximately two-thirds of their required needles. NEP attendees were more frequent injectors and had a higher education than non-attendees. Needle turnover was higher when peer educators had a higher wage and when local police were supportive of the programme.NEP are improving in terms of needle turnover and attendance. Greater cooperation from police, higher wages for peer educators, and wider awareness of the programmes among IDU are needed to increase coverage.