Thukela wants stem cell research in St. Maarten

POSTED: 12/20/11 5:17 PM

Plan for $130 million International Medical Center in Cupecoy

Bird’s eye view of David Morrison’s design for the International Medical Center in Cupecoy.


St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Thukela, a South African partnership of a New York-based real estate agent, a psychologist and two property developers, wants to invest $128.5 million in an International medical center in St. Maarten. Thukela’s preferred location is in Cupecoy, but the feasibility study also mentions an alternative location in Gibbs Bay.
Yesterday morning real estate agent Sandra Papale pitched the plan to parliament. It was more of a sales pitch than a clear presentation of the plan. Because one MP was so good to provide the media with the actual proposal, we’re able to publish details of the ambitious project.
In parliament it became clear that everything depends on the government’s approval. Papale said that the money for the investment is available, but she remained vague about the location, the number of local jobs, and the way the center would work together with the St. Maarten Medical center which, as MP Leroy de Weever pointed out, is in need of a $17 million investment. Papale brushed that aside: “It is easier for me to raise $150 million for an international project than to raise $17 million for a local hospital.”

Papale is in the Thukela partnership with Dr. Coleen Coetzee, a psychologist who runs a business called wellness in Durban, and Oriana and Linden Honeywill. According to the curriculum provided to the parliament, the four have developed a proposal for the $500 million Thukela Health and Welness Center in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa. Coetzee unveiled this project in October at the World Health Tourism Congress.
Thukela’s plans for St. Maarten are ambitious as well as potentially controversial. The feasibility study mentions in a list of seventeen medical services the center intends to offer among others stem cell research and implementation.

In its mission statement, Thukela says that it “will create a world class medical center servicing world needs for first class medical procedures with top global surgeons and specialists.” The center focuses on developing medical tourism, servicing market in “the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.”
Part of Papale’s sales pitch was a remark that the center will also serve local needs, by offering ten percent of its surgeon’s time on a pro bono basis. The feasibility study does not mention a percentage, but states that its international specialists will dedicate “a percentage of their time on a pro bono basis for qualified local patients,” without indicating the required qualifications.
The advantages for St. Maarten according to the feasibility study are increased revenue on different levels from the center’s clientele, but also savings on the cost of flying local patients for specialized treatment to countries like Venezuela, Curacao, Colombia, Martinique, Puerto Rico and the United States.
These savings, the plan suggests, could then be invested in prevention drives for “common chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes.”

The concept of medical tourism is based on the fact that medical treatment in the United States and Western Europe is expensive and that similar treatments are available elsewhere for a fraction of the price. The feasibility study mentions several examples, like a heart valve replacement which would cost $200,000 in the US and “just $10,000 in India, including airfare, accommodation and a brief vacation package.”
The proposed facility will include doctor’s offices and nurse’s stations, surgeries, short-term recovery rooms, medium-term recovery apartments and long-term luxury suites and apartments that will also be used for “post-treatment vacation stays.” The plans furthermore include a swimming pool, a waterfront restaurant, a small marina, a gym and a day spa.
Thukela has contracted Cicca design of St. Maarten as its architect. Cicca is the company of architects David Morrison and Francois Jaulin who also designed Porto Cupecoy.

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