Opinion: Sales pitch of Thukela’s International Medical Center

POSTED: 12/20/11 5:05 PM

In our editorial we addressed Thukela’s intention to include stemcell research in its activities in its proposed International Medical Center, so we won’t repeat ourselves here.
The presentation of the plan to the parliament yesterday morning seemed odd, and we think that independent MP Frans Richardson put his finger on it. Why, indeed, come to a central committee meeting with a story that is short on fact and rich in vagueness?
Mind you, anyone who wants to invest more than $100 million in St. Maarten ought to get a listening ear somewhere. But how serious is this venture of a company that apparently consists of four South Africans – one being a real estate agent based in New York, the second one being the owner of a company called Wellness in Durban, South Africa who seems to be a psychologist, and two others who are presented as property developers. To make the story a bit more interesting the four South Africans, who form a partnership under the name Thukela (after a river in their country of origin) throw in a story about a $500 million medical center they have planned near Durban.
The numbers are certainly impressive, but the key is: these are plans. They look good and impressive on paper, but they are not real – at least not yet.
Thukela’s spokeswoman Sandra Papale claims that the money to do the investment in St. Maarten is there, though she was quick to point out that it won’t be there forever. In other words: hurry up St. Maarten, otherwise we take our investment dollars elsewhere. A second-hand car salesman would hardly be able to outdo the lady in the field of salesmanship.
Yesterday we did not get a clear picture of how this International Medical Center would affect the business of our own Medical Center, or how these two institutions would work together. This is obviously a key issue. What we got from Mrs. Papale’s sales pitch is that her International Medical Center will service the rich and famous.
Well, she did not say that with so many words, of course, but what are we supposed to think when this center plans to bring the world’s top surgeons to our island? What are these specialists their clientele here? Will they really underbid the tariffs in their own country?
It does not make a lot of sense, especially not because, as the feasibility study points out, medical tourism is all about price. People will fly to weird places if they are able to get expensive medical treatment for a fraction of the price they’d have to pay at home, have a nice holiday under the sun, and still keep money in their pockets.
This means that, to be attractive, these specialists have to be cheap. Where will the center get these specialists? In India? China? North Korea? Certainly not in the United States or Europe where specialists are able to charge much higher fees.
Many of these questions did not come to the surface in parliament yesterday but then, parliament is maybe not the place to discuss these things. If an investor comes with such a prestigious plan to our island, we’d think that it is up to the Public Health Ministry to deal with it. That Ministry will have to do the grunt work, ask the relevant questions and then take a decision. The Ministry could still come to the parliament with a complete and clear proposal, but that would have to look and feel a tad different from the sales pitch Sandra Papale attempted to force down parliament’s throat yesterday.
While all this is brewing, maybe it is a good idea to invite the director of our own medical center, Dr. George Scot, to a Central Committee meeting to hear what he has to say about Thukela’s initiative.
For the time being, we remain highly interested – though intrigued is probably a better way to express our feelings.

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