Thai Activist Against AIDS Gets $1m Prize

May 29, 2007

Author: John Donnelly

Source: The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- In Thailand, he persuaded Santas and toll booth operators to hand out condoms. Traffic police gave them away, too, which he called "Cops and Rubbers." And Buddhist monks blessed packets of the latex sheaths in ceremonies.

Such creative HIV prevention tactics helped Mechai Viravaidya -- known as "Mr. Condom" -- and his Population and Community Development Association win the Gates Award for Global Health , a $1 million prize to be announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation .

"Everyone has to fight this," Viravaidya said in a telephone interview from Japan, referring to the battle against AIDS. "So you get people like policemen to help you. And you tell them, 'You could be saving lives on the road as well as in the back seat.' "

Dr. Tachi Yamada , president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, said Viravaidya and his organization have been at the forefront of public health innovations for more than three decades -- first in advocating for birth control and later in battling AIDS. His organization has grown from a handful of workers to a staff of 600 along with 12,000 volunteers.