World News Brief: End e-cigarette boom, WHO urges Measles on the rise in Europe, Central Asia; crisis for children in Lebanon

WHO said that 88 countries have no minimum age at which e-cigarettes can be purchased, and 74 countries have not implemented any e-cigarette regulations.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to step up prevention measures, saying “children are being recruited and trapped at an early age to use e-cigarettes and can become addicted to nicotine”.

Teenage users spike

Children aged 13 to 15 worldwide are using e-cigarettes at higher rates than adults, WHO research has found, and in the UK the number of young users has tripled in the past three years.

The UN health agency said the products generate carcinogens, increase the risk of heart and lung disease and can affect brain development.

The WHO also warned that the tobacco industry is “funding and promoting false evidence” to argue that e-cigarettes reduce harm, while “heavily promoting these products to children and non-smokers and continuing to sell billions of cigarettes” .

Fall in vaccine coverage prompts measles surge in Europe, Central Asia: UNICEF

Measles, a vaccine-preventable disease that weakens children’s immune systems and can be fatal, is up at a staggering 3,200 percent this year compared to last year in Europe and Central Asia, the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF said Thursday.

About 30,600 cases have been confirmed in the region so far in 2023, and UNICEF warned that the number is expected to rise further due to gaps in immunity as vaccination rates have fallen.

“There is no clearer sign of a breakdown in immunization coverage than an increase in measles cases,” said UNICEF Regional Director Regina De Dominicis, calling for urgent public health measures to protect children from the dangerous disease.

The highest incidences of measles cases in Europe and Central Asia have been recorded in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Romania. An estimated 931,000 children in the region completely or partially missed routine vaccination from 2019 to 2021.

UNICEF highlighted that the number of immunizations with the first dose of the measles vaccine fell from 96 percent in 2019 to 93 percent in 2022.

The UN agency attributes the drop in coverage to falling demand for vaccines “driven in part by misinformation and mistrust” during COVID-19 pandemic, disruption of health services and weak primary health systems among other factors.

Lebanese children forced to seek work as crises rage on

The impact of Lebanon’s relentless, overlapping crises continues to worsen, increasingly depriving children of their education and forcing many into child labour, UNICEF further warned Thursday.

The Children’s Agency said in a new study based on data from last month that parents are simply struggling to stay afloat and have to make do with ever-dwindling resources.

The analysis reveals further deterioration in almost every aspect of children’s lives as the four-year crisis stemming from economic crisis, political unrest and the Beirut port explosion shows no sign of abating.

The agency said the emotional burden is particularly heavy in conflict-torn southern Lebanon and among Palestinian children.

Eroding childhood

“This terrible crisis is eroding the childhoods of hundreds of thousands of children through multiple crises of their own making,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon. “Its severity is crushing children’s dreams and taking away their learning, their happiness and their future.”

More than a quarter of households said they had school-aged children who were not in school, up from 18 per cent in April this year.

To make matters worse, several dozen schools in southern Lebanon have been closed since October due to an intensification of hostilities across the Israeli border, affecting more than 6,000 students.

Skyrocketing prices and widespread poverty continue to force families to take desperate measures just to afford one meal a day and basic shelter.

Work, not school

The number of families sending children out to work to supplement household income rose to a shocking 16 percent from 11 percent in April.

More than eight out of 10 households (84 percent) had to borrow money or buy on credit to buy essential groceries; this is an increase of 16 percent over six months, the survey shows.

And more than eight out of 10 families reduced health care costs, up from 75 percent.

The deprivation and uncertainty also take a toll on children’s mental health, with almost 4 in 10 households saying their children are anxious and 24 per cent saying they are depressed on a daily basis.

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