Thai Senator Tells Filipinos Not To Rely on Government, Foreign Aid To Fight Spread of HIV
Thai Senator Mechai Viravaidya, a leading AIDS advocate worldwide, on Tuesday told Filipinos at an HIV/AIDS conference in Manila, Philippines, that they should not rely on government to fight the spread of HIV, AFP/Sun Star reports. "The leadership must come from within; the government will follow," Mechai said. He urged Philippine citizens to establish a self-sufficient national AIDS committee with representatives of various community sectors, possibly including academia, business, churches and the military. Mechai also told Filipinos not to depend on foreign aid, especially from the United States. "Anyone can be involved on the AIDS work," he said, adding, "Give America a holiday" (AFP/Sun Star, 9/27). Mechai said that "before foreign donors give financial aid or support, the government must first show political commitment" (Esteves, Manila Times, 9/28). The campaign against HIV/AIDS in the Philippines has been "slowed" by opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which is "dominant" in the country and opposes condom distribution, according to AFP/Sun Star. As of July, the Philippine government had recorded 2,121 HIV-positive people in the country, but Mechai said that the actual number could be 10 times higher (AFP/Sun Star, 9/27).
Mechai has been known as the "condom king" since he spearheaded Thailand's national condom promotion initiative 10 years ago (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/7). Mechai -- who is a popular figure in Thailand, where he distributes condoms every place he visits -- also is an ambassador for UNAIDS (Punay, Philippine Star, 9/28). He is known for his "humorous approach" to promoting condom use, according to the Times. "The condom is a girl's best friend," Mechai said at the conference, adding, "It can be used as a headband or as a cell phone holder" (Manila Times, 9/28).