Published On: Thu, Apr 9th, 2020

List of essential businesses on St. Maarten: an eye opener

Opinion - St Maarten NewsIn the chaos of the corona pandemic, some things suddenly become very clear. While private businesses are the backbone of the economy, we now see that the heart of society beats with the grace of essential companies and government organizations. For the first time it is clear which they are; thanks to COVID-19 we know who cannot be missed. And what is really important.

Construction has been halted. In the current situation, concrete is a side issue. Of course everyone needs a roof over their head and it would be great if a new hospital, airport and prison arise in the near future. But is the investment of hundreds of millions in buildings justifiable?

Lives are currently being saved in a hastily erected tent and a number of containers that have expanded the intensive care capacity of the St Maarten Medical Center. Where stones are replaceable, expertise is not. The expertise of doctors and nursing staff is indispensable.

There is far too little medical expertise on St. Maarten. Not only do you need more hands on the beds, but you also need to increase the number of specialists. For more than a year there have been vacancies for an operation assistant and registered nurses for the intensive care unit, obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics. The hospital is also looking for a cardiologist, a neurologist and a pediatrician, as well as someone with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree for the position of House Officer. An internist, an oncologist and an emergency room physician are also urgently needed.

Dr. Henk Wassenaar is the only oncologist employed by the hospital. Cancer patients on four islands – St. Maarten, Statia, Saba and Anguilla – rely on his medical expertise and decades of experience. Dr. Wassenaar turned 74 at the beginning of this year. Despite his advanced age, he is available day and night. God prevent Dr. Wassenaar from becoming infected with the corona virus. That would be a drama not only for him personally, but also for all cancer patients who depend on him for their treatment.

Most of the vacancies in St. Maarten Medical Center have been open since 2018. In the countries where the medical specialists should come from – the Netherlands, Curacao, the United States – there is also a great shortage of doctors and nurses. The US is forecasted to experience a shortage of 46,900 to 121,900 physicians by 2032. Faced with the corona pandemic, medical institutions will make every effort to retain their medical specialists and provide them with incentives to continue working in their home countries.

The government of St. Maarten accepted a 50-million-dollar loan from the European Investment Bank to rebuild the hurricane-hit airport. During the construction phase, 225 temporary jobs are being created, jobs that will be needed more than ever after the coronavirus lockdown is lifted. But when will tourists come back to the island, so the debt to the EIB can be repaid?

Before the corona pandemic, Paul Boetekees, managing director of Holland House, said: “We have to promote the island NOW. We need to reach our main source markets, not wait until the airport is finished.” The consequences of COVID-19 are devastating: up to 50 million jobs in the global travel and tourism sector are at risk. Now is the time to think about how to save the St. Maarten tourism. We need a Plan B.

But what is really essential?

In the chaos, some things suddenly become very clear. The country of St. Maarten needs experts, and politicians who listen to these experts. The essential professions and organizations cannot be missed; they are the beating heart of society. But without society’s backbone, the business sector, that society will not progress. There is still a huge consumer demand for goods and services and we will have to find ways to tap into it. Now is the time to listen to experts. Further brain drain, political interests and red tape are the main obstacles to reviving the economy and assuring the wellbeing of the people of St. Maarten.


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New York Times foresees “months of duress and uncertainty”