Two more children died from hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday, bringing the total death toll in the country to 83.
The two girls aged one and four were admitted to the HCMC Children's Hospitals 1 and 2 with fever, but succumbed to the disease after several days of treatment.
The two fatalities have brought HCMC's HFMD death toll this year to 24.
HFMD has plagued Vietnam since May, with a total 32,588 cases, including 83 fatalities, reported in 52 cities and provinces.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung sent an urgent message to the People's Committees of Hanoi, HCMC, Da Nang, Hai Phong and Can Tho, asking authorities to raise public awareness of the disease and launch preventive measures against its spread.
The PM ordered the education sector to cooperate with the health sector to prevent HFMD from taking over schools during the new academic year.
The PM also asked localities across the country to revise their laws on contagious disease prevention in order to declare the current outbreak a pandemic.
Local media reports have repeatedly asked why the Ministry of Health has not yet declared the HFMD a pandemic given the alarming level of infections and deaths.
Between 2008 and 2010, Vietnam recorded more than 10,000 HFMD cases annually.
In an interview with Thanh Nien on August 17, Deputy Minister of Health Trinh Quan Huan said the ministry will declare the HFMD a pandemic only if at least two localities declare local pandemics first, as regulated under the Law on Contagious Diseases Prevention.
Currently, HCMC has the country's highest HFMD rate, with 24 deaths among around 7,500 cases. However, HCMC health authorities said the disease is still under control.
"Although HCMC has the high number of HFMD infections, the disease is still under control. That's why we have yet to declare HFMD a pandemic in the city," said Pham Viet Thanh, director of the HCMC Health Department.