On this edition of Conversations, Thailand's Condom King, Mechai Viravaidya. The founder and chairman of the non-profit Population Development Association, Viravaidya is known globally for his brash and quirky campaigns to promote family planning and safe sex. In 2007, he was honored with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Award for his work. We find out how this economist became a health activist whose aggressive efforts to promote condom use have helped to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS in Thailand, a country with a notorious reputation for its sex trade industry.
Since the 1970s, Viravaidya has been affectionately known as "Mr. Condom", and in that time condoms were referred to as "mechais" in Thailand. From the time that he began his work, the average number of children in Thai families has reduced from 7 to 1.5.
Viravaidya was born in Thailand to a Scottish mother and a Thai father, both of whom were doctors. Viravaidya was educated at Geelong Grammar School and the University of Melbourne in Australia. In the mid-1960s he came to Thailand and started to work in family planning, emphasizing condoms. In 1973, he left government and founded the non-profit service organization Population Development Association, to continue the work to improve the lives of the rural poor.
Among other things, he held condom blowing contests for school children, encouraged taxi cab drivers to hand out condoms to their customers, and founded a restaurant chain called Cabbages and Condoms where condoms, rather than mints or fortune cookies, are given to customers together with the bill.