Celebrating the Impact of ‘Mr. Condom’

Nov 13th, 2022 | By | Category: Family Planning

By Suzanne York.


A global conference on reproductive health and rights is perhaps appropriately taking place in a city chock full of red-light districts and sex tourism. There is clearly a great need for family planning, access to reproductive health services and empowerment of sex workers here in Thailand’s ‘sin city’ of Pattaya.


The International Conference on Family Planning is a global gathering of reproductive health and rights advocates, activists, practitioners and government officials. The theme is “Family Planning & Universal Health Coverage: Innovate. Collaborate. Accelerate.”


Sure to be one of the conferences highlights will be the presentation of a global humanitarian award to Mechai Viravaidya, chairman of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). Mechai is also affectionately known as Mr. Condom or the Condom King for his instrumental work in lowering Thailand’s fertility rate, starting in the 1970s. His commitment to community-based family planning services, reducing poverty and supporting rural education programs, along with environmental programs and addressing Thailand’s HIV/AIDS crisis helped propel the country’s economic development.


Between 1974 and 2015, the number of children per family in Thailand dropped from seven children to 1.5. And the population growth rate went from 3.3% to just 0.4%.  The needs of women, families, youth and the poor were at last given attention.


Beyond that, Mechai made talking about family planning and sexual health a normal conversation. Much of this was done when he opened a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms (located in Pattaya City and Bangkok, as well as in England and Japan).  As told by Mechai, the name came about because condoms should be as easy to get as cabbages in the country.  According to the restaurant’s website, it started as a small vegetable stand located at the PDA offices, “where the vegetables, along with lace panties, T-shirts, key chains, condoms, and oral contraceptives were sold to the local residents.”  The rest, as they say, is history.


You can read more about Mechai’s work in his book From Condoms to Cabbages, or just by visiting one of his restaurants.

condoms by boat

Mechai is now 82 years old and has been doing this work for 50 years. He is an inspiration to so many people all around the world. His visionary ideas completely changed Thailand, and today his programs help not just the youth but also the elderly, and everyone in between.


As some countries, even developed countries (looking at you USA), go backwards on reproductive rights and health, Thailand is a shining example of what can be done. So even though the country is unfortunately  known today for sex tourism, it has made a lot of inroads in meeting the needs of its citizens. That is truly what the country should be known for, and in particular of how one man devoted his life to improving the health and rights of so many.


Suzanne York is Director of Transition Earth.

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