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India looking for “Mr. Condom”

Sexual HealthJun 30, 07

India, struggling to promote greater condom use among its population, is looking to hire its own “condom man” to follow the example of a former Thai cabinet minister who successfully pushed for safer sex.

National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) chief Sujatha Rao said that India needed to find someone like Mechai Viravaidya, famous for getting Thais to talk about sex, condoms and AIDS.

“We are serious about finding India’s very own Mr Condom,” Rao was quoted as saying after visiting Thailand to study its dramatic increase in condom us+ over the past decade, which contributed to a sharp fall in new HIV infections.

“He has to feel passionately about the cause as Mechai does… have a dynamic personality to change both government policy and public perceptions about HIV/AIDS, sex and condoms,” Rao was quoted in The Times of India as saying.

Mechai became famous in Thailand as the “Condom King” for actions such as taking condoms to World Bank talks as well as for the name of his Bangkok restaurant “Cabbages and Condoms,” where condoms are a major part of the decor.

Authorities in India, where many people are hesitant to talk about sex and condoms openly, are trying to push condom use through television, radio and newspapers and by targeting high-risk groups.

India has millions of people who are HIV-positive and many of them face discrimination and prejudice. The government plans to announce a new $2.8-billion plan next month to fight HIV, heavily focusing on promotion of condoms.

Britain’s Department for International Development said on Friday it would provide 102 million pounds ($204 million) for the five-year plan, doubling its funding despite a new survey indicating India’s HIV caseload of 5.7 million—the world’s largest—could be a big overestimate.

Total donations are expected to touch about $900 million, including from the World Bank and USAID.

In Thailand, Viravaidya’s organisation—the Population and Community Development Association of Thailand—won the $1 million Gates Award for Global Health this year that is awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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