Editor's Note, December 2022
Written by Marian Starkey, Vice President for Communications | Published: December 12, 2022
As I prepare to send this issue of the magazine to the printer, four of my colleagues and one of our board members are in Thailand at the International Conference on Family Planning. They are hosting an exhibit booth each day, talking with conference attendees from the United States and around the world about the health, social, and environmental benefits of voluntary family planning and about the role and responsibility that the U.S. has in expanding access to reproductive health care, including family planning and safe abortion, through progressive foreign assistance policies.
The conference is co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, the Thailand Ministry of Health, the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).
The founder of PDA, Mechai Viravaidya, is profiled in the feature article that begins on page 16. Mr. Condom, as Mr. Mechai is also known, has worked his entire professional life to slow population growth in Thailand through better access to voluntary family planning. Profits from his condom-themed restaurant and hotel chain, Cabbages & Condoms, help fund PDA. While they are in Thailand, our Population Connection contingent is staying at the Birds & Bees Resort, part of the Cabbages & Condoms enterprise. See page 24 for photos of the hotel and restaurant, our exhibit booth at the conference, and staff site visits to a teen center and a school participating in PDA’s Partnership School Project.
In no small part thanks to Mr. Mechai, Thailand has made incredible progress in health and economic development since PDA’s founding in 1974, as you’ll see in Pop Facts on page 4. Due to its middle-income status, Thailand “graduated” from USAID assistance in 1995, although a regional program based in Bangkok works in Thailand and surrounding countries to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and emerging infectious diseases. UNFPA still spends about half a million dollars a year in Thailand on sexual and reproductive health services, programs to empower women and young people, and population and development activities.
Thailand is sometimes compared to the Philippines as a sort of split test of what happens when two very similar countries (demographically speaking) take two very different family planning paths. Both countries had populations of around 40 million in 1974. Thailand made family planning a priority and now has a fertility rate of 1.32 births per woman and a population of 71.7 million. The Philippines, where the Catholic Church has blocked progressive family planning policy and public access to services for decades, has a fertility rate of 2.73 and a population of 115.6 million. There are vast differences in other health and development indicators as well, as you would imagine.
Family planning saves lives, reduces poverty, and helps to protect the environment where people live. The 4,000+ people attending the International Conference on Family Planning know this, and it’s our job to make sure global health donors know and care about it as well.
Correction: In the article “India Projected to Become World’s Most Populous Country Next Year” in the September issue, Kerala’s floods were partially attributed to glacial melt in the Himalayas. Kerala’s rivers come from the Western Ghats mountain range, which is not glaciated. Thanks to Prof. Stephen Warren for pointing out the error!