With an intravenous needle piercing her half-shaved scalp, 3-year-old Summi Akhtar was writhing in pain. Her mother prayed to Allah: "My baby is dying, save her, please."
"We are trying, but there is no guarantee," said Dr. Anjuman Islam, deputy director of Chittagong's only hospital for children.The 120-bed hospital, funded by public donations, was overcrowded with babies suffering from diarrhea, a legacy of the April 30 cyclone that killed more than 139,000 people.
The hospital has only 12 physicians, 21 nurses and one pathologist to attend to 2,000 babies at a time.
"Lift her," Dr. Islam told a male nurse when Summi's pulse faltered.
The nurse held her upside down as Dr. Islam tried to revive the little girl by pressing her chest.
"I have never seen so many kids suffering like this," Dr. Islam, who has been working as a child specialist since 1981, said. "I have never seen a scene like this in my life. This is terrible."
A father waited outside the hospital morgue to claim the body of his son, who died Wednesday. Mothers holding babies in their arms came by dozens in bicycle-rickshaws.
Inside the hospital, built in 1979, rows and rows of babies, with their scalps half-shaved, waited. Some were on the floor because there was no space left on the beds. Between one to four babies were put on one bed. Mothers tried to feed water to the babies.
Their scalps were shaved to make it easier to find the veins for the intravenous needles to inject rehydration fluids.
The head is the best place to find a vein and secure a needle to treat a sick infant or small child, Dr. Islam said.
Nurses ran from one room to another rotating the hospital's only oxygen cylinder. There were not enough stands for the saline drips; some hung from windows.
Diarrheal diseases are endemic in Bangladesh, but the number and severity has escalated since the receding tidal wave left stagnant pools of water in towns and villages up and down the coast.
The unhygienic slums where most of Chittagong's 3 million people live and overcrowded relief camps are major breeding grounds for post-cyclone diarrhea.
"Children, particularly very young ones, are the easy prey of such diarrheal attacks," said Mohammad Abdul Mayeen of UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund.
"Here we have some medical care," said Dr. Mohammad Mohasin, director of the Children's Hospital. "Can you imagine what is happening in the islands?"
Sixty-five Bay of Bengal islands were hit by the cyclone. Bangladeshi officials say most of the cyclone deaths occurred on the islands, most of them little more than sand bars.
A UNICEF statement issued in Chittagong estimated that at least 60,000 children perished in the cyclone.
"Our job now is to try to save the survivors, but it will be a very, very difficult job," Mahasin said.
The Bangladeshi government, now aided by a U.S. military task force, has been trying to reach food and relief to the 8.9 million people the government classifies as "affected" by the cyclone.
"It is the right time to talk about the babies," Mahasin said.
As he spoke, Masuma Begum arrived with her 4-year-old son, Sohel. "He is dying," she said without showing any emotion.
"My other son died four days ago. Maybe I can save him."