TEDxChange: Big laughs for Thailand’s ‘condom king’

TEDxChange: Big laughs for Thailand’s ‘condom king’

Mechai Viravaidya, founder of Bangkok's Cabbages & Condoms restaurant, gave a humor-filled speech on family planning, AIDS and poverty reduction at Melinda Gates' annual TEDx event

Melinda Gates' TEDxChange event was held in New York City yesterday, with Thailand's very own 'condom king,' Mechai Viravaidya, among the speakers. 

The Population and Community Development Association (PDA) founder and chairman gives some interesting insights into the unique and often outlandish steps his assocation took from 1974 to promote family planning, prevent HIV/AIDS and reduce poverty.

He talks of monks blessing contraceptives with holy water to make their use more socially acceptable, relay races with condoms, condom-blowing contests in schools and programs that even had Bangkok police officers handing out condoms to cars stuck in traffic, a strategy he dubbed the "Cops and rubbers program."

“Wherever you find people, you’ll find contraceptives in Thailand,” says Meechai. “Before long, the condom was known as the girl’s best friend.”

According to Mechai, between 1974 and 2000 Thailand's population growth went from 3.3 percent to 0.5 percent, with the national average of seven children per family down to 1.5. He also noted that from 1991 to 2003, new cases of HIV/AIDS in Thailand declined by 90 percent. That translates into 7.7 million lives saves.

On the TEDxChange website, Mechai is cited for initiating community-based family planning services, innovative poverty reduction and rural education programs, large-scale rural development and environmental programs, as well as groundbreaking HIV/AIDS prevention activities throughout Southeast Asia.

But here in Bangkok, we all know him best for his Cabbages and Condoms restaurant. Featuring various pieces of art made with condoms and even a signature condom-related dish, the Sukhumvit restaurant was founded by his PDA in 1986 to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities.  

The restaurant achieved world-wide attention earlier this year for making a Tiger Woods statue out of condoms to promote safe sex at the height of Woods' adultery scandal.

Mechai clearly has a great sense of humor. At one point in his TEDxChange talk, he shows the audience the free condoms he plans to give them after the event and says: "Let me warn you. These are Thai size, so be very careful.”

Above is the full TEDxChange webcast. Meechai’s talk -- "A Partnership to End Poverty" -- begins at the 47:15 mark.