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Aleppo only has 35 doctors. So American doctors are helping them save lives over Skype.


Aleppo only has 35 doctors. So American doctors are helping them save lives over Skype.

WATCH | Inside one of Syria's "virtual hospitals"  

What Syrian doctors need the most

Ask the doctors saving lives in Syria the one resource they need the most, and you'll get the same answer: more doctors.

"We have an insufficient number of doctors in Aleppo, like neurosurgeons, cardiologists and vascular surgeons. Those specializations they almost do not exist in Aleppo," said Abu-Ahmad, an intensivist working at one of eastern Aleppo's few remaining field hospitals.

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Since March 2011, at least 757 Syrian doctors, nurses and medical staff have died in more than 380 attacks on medical facilities, according to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

35 doctors to treat 300,000 

PHR researcher Elise Baker says there are an estimated 35 doctors left in Aleppo, a city home to 300,000 residents. 

"With 35 doctors, you don't have all the specialties covered and a lot of the doctors are basically working beyond the capacity they were trained in," Baker said.

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The five-year conflict has created a situation where remaining doctors are performing procedures outside their expertise.  It's not uncommon for veterinarians and dentists to function as full-time surgeons. 

SAMS 2015 National Video

WATCH  | In the United States, a group of Syrian-American physicians came up with a solution to this expertise gap: telemedicine.

It's like I'm there, but virtually.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul

Using messaging services Whatsapp, Telegram and Vibr, Syrian doctors are getting consultations from volunteer doctors thousands of miles away who take turns being on call. 

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a critical-care specialist in Chicago, is one of those doctors. He reviews X-rays, labs and photos sent to him by his Syrian counterparts. 

Dr. Zaher Sahloul Addresses the UN at Arria-Formula Open Meeting

WATCH  | Dr. Zaher Sahloul describes the horrors of Aleppo to the United Nations.

Sahloul, along with other volunteers working for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), has made several trips to Syria to meet with and train local doctors. 

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Because Syrian government forces have cut off Internet access, SAMS provided the hospitals with satellite gear and cameras in the operating rooms that allow American doctors to monitor surgeries remotely.   

We leave our homes in the morning and we know we might not come back.
Dr. Abu-Rajab, x-ray specialist in Syria

A United Nations investigation found the Syrian government has been systematically attacking hospitals in rebel-controlled areas, including eastern Aleppo. The situation has become so dire that many hospitals have moved their facilities underground.  

The amount of respect I have for them can't be put into words. There are bombs that are literally landing on their hospitals while they are working.
Elise Baker, Physicians for Human Rights

Aleppo only has 35 doctors. So American doctors are helping them save lives over Skype.

WATCH | The inside of a hospital in eastern Aleppo destroyed in an airstrike 

This is the most difficult position that a physician has to face because we are trained to save lives, we are not trained to let people die.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul

But despite the technical lifeline, ill-equipped facilities and lack of experienced doctors, healthcare providers on the frontlines in Syria daily face the near-impossible decision: choose who lives and who dies.

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