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Woonton stands up for ‘Dr Joe’

Monday November 05, 2018 Written by Published in Health
Former Cook Islands prime minister Dr Joe Williams. 18100308 Former Cook Islands prime minister Dr Joe Williams. 18100308

Former prime minister and health minister Dr Robert Woonton says the New Zealand parliament should be the next step for more than 11,000 petitioners calling out “unfair” treatment of a leading Cook Islands doctor punished for healing their skin ailments.


The doctor, former Cook Islands prime minister, Dr Joe Williams has been fined 10,000 and 145,000 in court costs for using a non-sanctioned 'magic cream' combining a powerful steroid with an antifungal cream and dispensing nutritional advice to eczema patients.

While Williams has written a book on the subject and has had no complaints from patients, his approach has not been formally tested and researched, falling outside of accepted medical practice. Along with the hefty bill, Williams has to abide by conditions on his practice, especially when treating minors.

Commenting on the waves of support and testimonies on social media for his colleague, Dr Woonton says the momentum so far should continue through to parliament.

He says Parliament is the only option given the appeals process has been exhausted. Woonton says the original complaint and conduct of the investigation led by the tribunal raises more questions and the petitioners were in their rights to go over the heads of the disciplinary tribunal and take their petition to those who gave them (the tribunal) its mandate and power.

“We should present it to parliament, to the health minister. These (disciplinary tribunal) people have the power given to them by parliament and it would be the right thing to do. We have the right to go through the proper channels.”

Woonton says the creams combined by Dr Williams are widely available on their own, and not controversial.

The process for petitions to parliament is a straightforward one for New Zealand, especially as it celebrates 125 years since one of its most famous petitions containing the signatures calling for women to have the right to vote, got the thumbs up from the all-male leaders of the day. In March this year, the parliament opened up access for citizens with an online petition portal.

Petitions are a way to seek changes to a law or raise an issue when no other remedies are available, clerk of the House of Representatives David Wilson says, with petitions able to ask the House to do something about a policy or law, or right a wrong that available systems can't seem to fix.

The new e-petitions provide a user friendly space for public engagement with their elected officials and does not carry any age restrictions. Electronic petitions, like all petitions, need to be presented to parliament by a member.

For Woonton, that member would ideally be the Minister of Health David Clark. For many supporters based in South Auckland, Mangere MP Aupito William Sio who is Minister for Pacific Peoples.

Meanwhile, the word of mouth support continues from Casey Panapa, whose son Isaiah was born in 2016 with eczema, noticed nothing was working and came across mention of Dr Joe from relatives. He refers to the cream combo as “magic cream”, saying it cleared his toddler’s condition within a week.

“Not only that, but Dr Joe sat down with us and guided us through a diet our son should be one, a diet we stick with to this day,” says Panapa.

“He also told us about how to use the creams and how not to use them - all the pros and the cons.”

The response to his petition has shown many had the same experience, Panapa says.

“I've read comments and comments and been sent pictures of children after using Dr Joe's ‘magic cream’. He doesn't deserve to be the way he's been treated so this is me, supporting him. I have nothing but love and respect for the man.”

The ruling from the tribunal has had no impact on Dr Williams’ Mt Wellington practice, where he continues his work as the go-to doctor for skin ailments and pretty much everyting for the Cook Islands community.

Williams was in the Cook Islands recently as keynote speaker at the annual Health conference, presenting on his groundbreaking work in tropical diseases and treatment of filariasis.

The first indigenous Cook Islands doctor to return home and practice amongst his people, Williams played a key role in fighting systemic bias against “native” doctors and to claim recognition for the work led by returning Cook Islands professionals as the country began its journey to independence.

            - Lisa Williams-Lahari



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