03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Miss Universe and Worms

Okay, so it's not every day that you see the words "Miss Universe" and "Worms" together. But get used to it. Thanks to a partnership between the Miss Universe Organization and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Miss Universe will frequently be sharing headlines with worms.

These are not the cute little gummy worms that your kids like to eat. These worms wreak havoc on a child's development, causing anemia, stunted growth and reductions in IQ. Children worldwide are plagued by intestinal worms, a very common neglected tropical disease (NTD) that is easily preventable. NTDs like worms are devastating, disabling and often deadly diseases impacting more than 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.

The good news is that the situation is poised to change. For the seven most common NTDs, effective drug therapy exists and can be delivered for as little as 50 cents per person per year. That's right; we have the power to eliminate the worms that are trapping hundreds of millions of people in an endless cycle of poverty.

When we approached the Miss Universe Organization about partnering with us to help eliminate NTDs in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2014, their enthusiasm was overwhelming. As people with NTDs will tell you, there's a reason they are neglected, and sadly, part of it has to do with their disfiguring nature. The physical disability is compounded by the enormity of the stigma and discrimination - these are people who are shunned in their communities.

But that's the beauty - pardon the pun - of this partnership. And why it is so extraordinary that these amazing young women have joined our effort. With more than 240 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean suffering from NTDs, some of the contestants have seen the devastation first-hand. Others just were drawn to the cause, particularly because the solution to end the suffering is so simple. Just 50 cents.

So, Miss Universe contestants have joined the fight against NTDs - they will go to their countries and raise awareness and even distribute drug treatments. As President of the Miss Universe Organization Paula Shugart stated, "We want to put our boots on the ground. Our boots just happen to have six inch heels."

I've joked that when we launched the Global Network three years ago at the Clinton Global Initiative, we couldn't pay ten people to come to a dinner to discuss NTDs. At CGI this year, well over a 100 people came together to celebrate our commitment in Latin America and I had James Carville telling me that "I think you are on to something here." And far be it from me to disagree with James Carville.

Yes, we have Miss Universe and worms. And we hope that piques your curiosity to go to to see what a difference your 50 cents can make. Beauty, brains and commitment to act - what more could anyone want?

NTDs and Living Proof
Tomorrow, Bill and Melinda Gates will be in Washington, DC to discuss their latest labor of love: The Living Proof Project - a multimedia initiative intended to highlight successes of US-funded global health initiatives. At the event, they'll be sharing evidence that current US investments in global health demonstrate progress against global health challenges.

With informative fact sheets, inspirational videos, and stunning photographs, there's much to like about the LPP and the advocacy value it brings to the global health policy community. In fact, at the Global Network, we're so inspired by the mission of the LPP that we wanted to create our own version.

So today, in 3 installments, we'll bring you NTD community's living proof--at the individual, community, and global levels--that investments in NTD control are reaping huge dividends for the US and for the world. We hope you'll feel excited by the incredible opportunity we have to achieve cost-effective successes for the people infected with NTDs around the world.

Please visit our End the Neglect blog today and in the months to come. We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions as we continue to raise the profile of NTDs.