BANGKOK — Mechai Viravaidya two times noticed Thailand in determined bother — first from a ruinous inhabitants explosion after which from the AIDS epidemic — and he replied to each crises the similar approach: with condoms and his personal substantial aura.
Birth keep an eye on was once one thing Thais neither mentioned nor very a lot practiced within the early Nineteen Seventies, when the rustic’s inhabitants was once rising at an unsustainable tempo and the common kin had seven youngsters.
So Mr. Mechai determined to take on the topic that nobody else would contact, spearheading a national marketing campaign to publicize and demystify contraceptives.
“It wasn’t a job for intelligent people, smart people, respectable people, aristocratic people,” he mentioned in a June interview.
Mr. Mechai, now 81, is actually all of those, the foreign-educated son of 2 docs, the husband of a former personal secretary to the king and, over time, a central authority minister, organizational chief and senator.
But he’s additionally uninhibited, unpretentious and all the time keen to position on a display to steer folks.
His purpose with the family-planning marketing campaign, he mentioned, was once to make condoms only one extra merchandise consumers picked up available in the market, at the side of cleaning soap, toothpaste and dried fish. To pull that off, he knew it could assist to lend condoms certain associations, one thing that made folks smile.
“If I can accomplish that by blowing up condoms or filling them with water,” he mentioned, “then fine, I’ll do it.”
Mr. Mechai was once talking now not some distance from the Bangkok workplaces of the Population and Community Development Association, the group he based just about 50 years in the past to struggle poverty in Thailand, with kin making plans a linchpin.
He toured the rustic, village to village, with an never-ending array of gimmicks and exposure stunts that connected condoms with a laugh. Filling them up with water previous the purpose of breaking was once a staple efficiency.
“Who can blow up the biggest condom?” he would name out to the crowds. “Who can make it burst!”
He opened what he known as family-planning “supermarkets” at bus stations to distribute contraceptives and persuaded Buddhist clergymen to bless condoms, distributing movies of the ceremonies. To teach more youthful Thais, he produced a safe-sex English alphabet that incorporated letters like B for start keep an eye on, C for condom and V for vasectomy.
In addition to the spectacle, the marketing campaign had severe infrastructure in the back of it. He mobilized and educated a community of 350,000 academics and 12,000 village group leaders.
And he didn’t restrict his family-planning efforts best to condoms. In Bangkok, he presented mass unfastened vasectomies on a parade flooring close to the palace to have fun the king’s birthday.
The Fight Against H.I.V.
An estimated 40 million persons are residing with H.I.V. international. About 10 million of them do not need get entry to to remedy.
Some discovered his strategies offensive, or no less than insufficiently decorous. A newspaper columnist, seeking to formulate an insult, steered that folks get started calling condoms “mechais.”
The thought stuck on, and Mr. Mechai framed a duplicate of the thing to hold on his wall.
It all added as much as extra exposure, the primary weapon in his arsenal, and the result of his marketing campaign have been dramatic. Thailand’s inhabitants expansion price fell from greater than 3 % in 1974 to 0.6 % in 2005, and the common selection of youngsters in line with kin shrank from seven to fewer than two.
The World Bank known as Mr. Mechai’s marketing campaign “one of the most successful and effective family planning programs in the world.”
In 1970, each Thailand and the Philippines had an identical populations of 36 million.
“Now we have about 70 million and they have 107 million,” Mr. Mechai mentioned within the interview, in truth understating the Philippines inhabitants, which is over 110 million. He added that if Thailand hadn’t addressed its inhabitants factor it, too, can be sending hundreds of thousands of its voters out of the country to seek out paintings.
“If we hadn’t stepped in it would have been to the deep detriment of the economy of Thailand and the quality of life,” he mentioned.
When the AIDS pandemic started to crush Thailand within the past due Eighties, Mr. Mechai hired the similar knack for exposure, persuasiveness and showmanship in preventing the illness.
As along with his first condom marketing campaign, he to begin with struck out on his personal as the federal government refused to again a safe-sex marketing campaign, fearing it could harm the profitable sex-tourism trade.
So Mr. Mechai grew to become as an alternative to the army, a formidable establishment past the achieve of civilian govt, which agreed to air common safe-sex bulletins on its 300 radio stations and 5 tv stations.
Then in 1991, a brand new high minister, Anand Panyarachun, embraced AIDS prevention, making Mr. Mechai his minister of knowledge and tourism. Every govt ministry was once now known as directly to play a task in AIDS schooling.
“We had condoms out everywhere on the streets — everywhere, everywhere,” Mr. Mechai mentioned in a TED Talk recounting his way. “In taxis, you get condoms, and also, in traffic, the policemen give you condoms.”
And Mr. Mechai — regardless of or most likely as a result of his M.B.A. from Harvard — took it upon himself to change into the recognizable image that he mentioned each a hit advertising program wishes, dubbing himself “Captain Condom” and going to colleges and evening golf equipment to advertise secure intercourse.
The World Health Organization known as Thailand’s option to the AIDS disaster “the quickest response to the problem that we have ever seen.” The United Nations mentioned Mr. Mechai’s program had accomplished a 90 % decline in new infections, and the World Bank estimated that it had stored 7.7 million lives between 1991 and 2012.
Mr. Mechai was once born in Bangkok in 1941, to a Scottish mom, Isabella MacKinnon Robertson, and a Thai father, Samak Viravaidya, each docs, who had met as scholars on the University of Edinburgh Medical School.
Raised talking Thai and English, he went to school and school in Australia, incomes a bachelor’s level in trade in 1964 from the University of Melbourne.
His convenience amongst each Thais and Westerners, Mr. Mechai mentioned, has enhanced his skill to pitch his systems — and foyer for financing — in several cultures, effectively relationship really extensive grants from foundations, building organizations and overseas governments.
Returning to Thailand in 1966, Mr. Mechai concept in the beginning of changing into a physician like his oldsters. “I helped my father stitch up a finger that had been cut off, holding on to a rubber tourniquet,” he mentioned, “and I realized, that’s not for me.”
Attracted by way of the big variety of problems it addressed, he joined the federal government’s National Economic and Social Development Board, the place he served for 8 years as an economist.
At the similar time he discovered different shops for his energies, writing a newspaper column, web hosting a night radio display and instructing a part-time college English direction.
His penchant for efficiency additionally led him to appearing, and he seemed in a well-liked, sentimental TV drama, “Star-Crossed Lovers,” enjoying a Japanese military officer who falls in love with a Thai faculty pupil throughout World War II.
In 1971 he married a youth buddy, Thanpuying Putrie, with whom he has one daughter. His spouse is a cousin of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the daddy of the present king, and he or she served for years as his deputy important personal secretary. Mr. Mechai delights in announcing that his mom was once the physician who delivered his long run spouse.
In his position as a central authority economist, he toured the rustic and noticed firsthand the poverty, and the social and financial dislocations that he later faithful his existence to addressing.
“There were children everywhere,” he mentioned of Thai villages. “This was the great problem. And I realized I was wrong in thinking the government could do everything. So I decided to go out on my own.”
In 1974 he left govt to discovered the Population and Community Development Association. It flourished and branched out to handle a variety of social and financial problems, from rural building to environmental coverage.
In the years that adopted, his occupation trail took him out and in of presidency roles, together with as cupboard spokesman, deputy trade minister and 3 phrases as a member of the Senate between 1987 and 2006.
In addition to his paintings on kin making plans and secure intercourse, growing Thailand’s rural financial system has been a decades-long center of attention of his activism. In the Nineties, he based the Village Development Project, which objectives to foster entrepreneurship and create income-generating actions in rural Thailand.
It has arrange small factories within the geographical region to entice employees again house from sweatshops in Bangkok, a part of an effort to battle the city migration that has debilitated rural economies.
His mentioned his largest satisfaction now’s the Mechai Bamboo School in northeastern Thailand, set as much as “re-engineer rural education” by way of turning the varsity right into a lifelong studying heart and an energetic contributor to existence in its group.
A boarding college with a pupil frame of 180 that makes some degree of together with undocumented and disabled scholars, it extends the idea that of schooling into a suite of existence talents, in step with Mr. Mechai.
“The school aims to foster good citizens who are honest, willing to share, and truly accept and practice gender equality,” Mr. Mechai mentioned.
Its outreach systems be offering help to older villagers, give dietary recommendation to pregnant ladies and help in small-scale agriculture.
Mr. Mechai mentioned greater than 100 small rural faculties have begun to observe his lead in changing into extra focused on their communities.
Though now at an age when the general public are slowing down, Mr. Mechai has no plans to forestall addressing what he mentioned have been his existence’s major considerations: “to combat economic and social inequality by reducing births, reducing deaths from AIDS and reducing poverty, financial dependence and ignorance.”