It was a conundrum which Mechai Viravaidya – since recognised as one of the most influential people in Asia – turned his mind to, in time earning himself the nickname “Mr Condom’’.
Mr Viravaidya, who was educated in Australia and graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in commerce, will be speaking at this year’s Australian Institute of Company Directors SA Annual Dinner, to be held on Thursday, October 25 at the Adelaide Convention Centre.
He will be speaking on the theme, “How leadership can change the world” and will be reflecting on a career in public service which has spanned more than four decades and led to him, among other accolades, being awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health in 2007.
Mr Viravaidya was the chief architect of Thailand’s national HIV/AIDS prevention program, which was credited with a fall of 90 per cent in new HIV infections over 12 years from 1991, which the World Bank estimates saved 7.7 million lives.
When he began to tackle the population issue in Thailand, starting in 1974, the population growth rate was 3.3 per cent, with each family having a staggering seven children.
“We needed to reduce the population growth rate,’’ Mr Viravaidya says in his TED talk, which has been viewed more than one million times.
Mr Viravaidya founded the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) in 1974, and set about developing a community education program which would both distribute contraception and educate the community about its benefits.
This was done initially through the distribution of contraception through local markets, through contact with local monks and the education of 320,000 teachers. The result, by the year 2000, was a drop in the population growth rate to 0.5 per cent and an average of 1.5 children per family.
Mr Viravaidya has also served in the Thai government, as a Senator and member of the Cabinet and in 1999, he was appointed the UNAIDS Ambassador. PDA has expanded well beyond its original remit, now operating the “Cabbages and Condoms” chain of restaurants across Thailand, with profits supporting PDA’s programs in primary health, education, HIV/AIDS prevention and rural development, and schools for disadvantaged young people.
AICD SA/NT president Dr Roger Sexton said he met Mr Viravaidya while he was working for the UN in Thailand, and had rekindled the relationship in recent years.
This article first appeared in The Advertiser.