Mechai Viravaidya (born 17 January 1941, Thai: มีชัย วีระไวทยะ; RTGS: Michai Wirawaithaya) is a former politician and activist in Thailand who promoted condoms, family planning and AIDS awareness in Thailand. Since the 1970s, Mechai has been affectionately known as "Mr. Condom", and condoms are often referred as "mechais" in Thailand. From the time that he began his work, the average number of children in Thai families has decreased from 7 to 1.5.
|Born||17 January 1941|
|Spouse(s)||Thanpuying Putrie Viravaidya|
|Alma mater||Trinity College, Melbourne|
Mechai was born in Bangkok to a Scottish mother and a Thai father, both of whom were doctors and had met when studying in Edinburgh. He is one of four children. His younger brother, Sunya, is the founder of the Pattaya International Hospital. One of his sisters, Sumalee Viravaidya, was a noted journalist in the 1970s, writing for the Bangkok Post and the Nation. Mechai was educated in Australia at Geelong Grammar School and at Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, where he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In 1965, he returned to Thailand and started to work in family planning, emphasizing the use of condoms. In 1973, he left the civil service and founded a non-profit service organization, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), to continue his efforts to improve the lives of the rural poor. He used such events as holding condom blowing contests for school children, encouraging taxi drivers to hand out condoms to their customers, and founding a restaurant chain called Cabbages and Condoms, where condoms are given to customers 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. The clinic is permitted by the authorities due to the dangers of unsafe abortion by Thai women because of "economic difficulties".
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 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.
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. This award came with funds of $1,000,000.