Mechai Viravaidya

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Mechai Viravaidya in 2008

Mechai Viravaidya (born January 17, 1941, Thai: มีชัย วีระไวทยะ; RTGS: Michai Wirawaithaya) is a former politician and activist in Thailand who has popularized condoms, family planning and AIDS awareness in Thailand.[1] Since the 1970s, Mechai has been affectionately known as "Mr. Condom" in Thailand, and condoms have sometimes been referred to as "mechais" there.[2] From the time that he began his work, the average number of children in Thai families has decreased from 7 to 1.5.[3]

Mechai was born in Thailand to a Scottish mother and a Thai father, both of whom were doctors. They met whilst studying in Edinburgh.[4] He is one of four children. His younger brother, Sunya, is the founder of the Pattaya International Hospital. One of his two sisters, Sumalee, was formerly a journalist in Bangkok. Mechai was educated at Geelong Grammar School and at Trinity College at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In the mid-1960s he returned to Thailand and started to work in family planning, emphasizing condoms. In 1973, he left government and founded a non-profit service organization, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), 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.

An interesting side note is the family planning clinic which openly operates next to the Cabbages and Condoms restaurant. This is one of several places in Bangkok where poor women can receive pregnancy termination, a practice which is legal in the country per Section 305 of the Thailand penal code, but often perceived as illegal.[5][6] The clinic is permitted by the authorities due to the dangers of unsafe abortion by Thai women because of "economic difficulties".[7]

Mechai served as deputy minister of industry from 1985 to 1986 under prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda. He served as senator from 1987 until 1991. During this time AIDS appeared in Thailand, and he increased his efforts to promote sexual-safety awareness.

A military coup in 1991 installed prime minister Anand Panyarachun who then appointed Mechai minister for tourism, information and AIDS. He was able to start a large and quite successful AIDS education campaign and served until 1992. At that time he became the chairman of the Foundation for International Education, the non-profit organization that serves as the governing body of NIST International School. Mechai continued to serve as the chair until stepping down in May, 2002.

In 1995 he was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia, for "service to Australian-Thai relations and contributions to the world AIDS debate".[8]

In 2004, Mechai again became a senator. In 2006 he won praise from the toilet industry (but criticism from the retail industry) for proposing that retailers be obliged to build a public toilet for every 10 square metres of retail space.[9]

As of 2007, he continues to oversee rural development and health initiatives as the Chairman of PDA, now the largest NGO in Thailand, with 600 employees and 12,000 volunteers. On May 29, 2007, PDA was awarded the 2007 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Gates Award in recognition of its pioneering work in family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention.[10] This award came with funds of $1,000,000.[11]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas D'Agnes. From condoms to cabbages: An authorized biography of Mechai Viravaidya. Post Books 2001. ISBN 974-228-009-6

External links[edit]