Founder and Board Chairman
The Population & Community Development Association
Mechai Viravaidya, also known as "the condom king," is Thailand's famous fighter for family planning and safe sex. A health economist from a wealthy family and the founder of the Population and Community Development Association, Mechai is best known for his use of humor and unorthodox methods in focusing the public's attention on public health. In the 1970s and '80s, when he was working to reduce Thailand's rapid population growth, he conceived condom-blowing contests and programs for taxi drivers to hand out condoms to their fares. Diners at his Cabbages & Condoms restaurants get a plate of condoms instead of mints after their meals. He even persuaded Buddhist monks to sprinkle holy water on condoms, all in an effort to demystify this simple piece of rubber and encourage the Thai people to use it.
In the last two decades, Mechai has again deployed his condom campaign to combat AIDS in Thailand. The country's notorious sex-trade industry could have easily spawned a horrific epidemic. At first the government was resistant to Mechai's assertion that the police needed to work with commercial sex workers and drug addicts to reduce the spread of the HIV virus. "In the beginning, yes, but we had to hit them over the head," he says. The charismatic and popular Cabinet minister was hard to ignore. With the help of Mechai's resourcefulness and imaginative prodding, Thailand now boasts one of the lowest birthrates in Asia, and the spread of HIV infection has also slowed considerably. Further testament to his success: "Mechai" is now slang for "condom" in the Thai language.
Mechai is now turning his attention toward a fight against political corruption, but he recently stated: "Most important of all is poverty alleviation, which is number one, and then the role of women. Women are very, very important in the development process. When you have two brilliant arms, why use only one?"