New WADA approved anti-doping lab opens in Nairobi

A Kenya-based laboratory set to go online in early September will speed up the process of blood-testing Kenyan runners. The World Anti Doping Agency approved The LANCET Group of East Africa’s application to become a (WADA)-approved laboratory for Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) blood analysis.

The lab in the capital, Nairobi, will focus on blood analyses, although it will also be able to carry out other doping tests, the Athletics Integrity Unit said.

WADA also says the Kenya-based facility will help close a loophole that some fear had allowed athletes from the East African distance-running powerhouse to beat controls for years.

Previously, blood samples taken from Kenya’s world-beating distance runners had to be flown to South Africa or, more recently, Europe to be tested at an approved lab within 36 hours, a challenging race-against-time that led to the regular bending of anti-doping rules.

The new lab should stop athletes who train in remote regions in the high-altitude west of the country from being given prior warning of out-of-competition tests by sample collectors.

“From now on, the analyses of blood samples will be performed locally,” said Brett Clothier, Head of the AIU. “This will give us more efficiency, more responsiveness and less predictability in our testing programme in the region and a foothold in neighbouring countries where it was extremely difficult to collect blood samples in the past.”

Out-of-competition checks are meant to be sprung on athletes by surprise.

But the time required to reach athletes and get samples to Nairobi and out of the country to an approved testing lab within the 36-hour limit had meant it became easier for officials to give a group notice a day before to gather at a specific place to be tested together.

Experts say, though, that drug cheats could use the advance notice to dilute their blood — either by drinking copious amounts of fluid or by infusing saline — and beat the test.

This is very timely especially in the context of next year’s IAAF World Championships in Doha, adds AIU Chairman David Howman. Howman says the Kenya-based laboratory is a major development towards the fight against doping in Africa for athletics and indeed for all sports.

“This is the first time since WADA’s inception that an International Federation has taken the initiative to establish a WADA-approved laboratory in an area of real need. It shows that the AIU is not accepting of the status quo, but is taking responsibility for the integrity of athletics and getting things done with a proactive and innovative approach.”

The laboratory is expected to analyse between 800 and 1000 blood samples a year as part of the AIU doping control programme in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Eritrea.