MWANGI: With technology, Kenya is not left behind in fight against doping

Sam Mwangi Despite the dampening news of few Kenyan high-profile athletes being recently sanctioned for anti-doping transgressions, the country is preparing to send a strong team to the summer Olympics in Tokyo slated for August this year. While this has triggered a flurry of activities from government and relevant sports regulators such as the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), it is also a pointer that technology is taking centre-stage in the battle against dopers. The country has a fully-fledged World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory which was granted the status in August 2018. Being the first and only facility in East Africa to carry out blood analysis for anti-doping purposes is clear testament to the seriousness in which technology is being embraced in the fight against doping in Kenya. Previously, blood samples had to be shipped to France and South Africa for analysis. This was an expensive undertaking which also required heavy investments in transport logistics given that the blood needed to arrive in the laboratories within 24 hours after collection. This is especially the case for purposes of Athlete Blood Passport (ABP). According to WADA, the fundamental principle of the ABP is to monitor selected biological variables over time that indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than attempting to detect the doping substance or method itself. In other words, it is now possible to detect use of performance enhancing substances by athletes just by monitoring their blood variables. This has, among other things, been instrumental in assisting in identification and targeting athletes for specific analytical testing by intelligent and timely interpretation of their blood passport data. And just like the old adage goes; the devil is in the details – with science in the fray, catching dopers is becoming easier. Put plainly, athlete biological passport is an individual electronic record for professional athletes, in which profiles of biological markers of doping and results of doping tests are collated over a period of time. This means that doping violations can be detected by noting variances from the athlete’s established levels outside permissible limits, rather than testing for and identifying illegal substances. For the past two years since its accredited status, the dedicated anti-doping Laboratory in Nairobi has been performing blood analyses to support AIU’s Athlete Biological Passport program together with other anti-doping programs operating in the East Africa, such as that of ADAK To demonstrate that science is not just about to go away in the fight against cheating in sport, WADA in October last year announced the introduction of research undertaking in the area of dried-blood-spot testing. When making the announcement, the global anti-doping body revealed that one of the objectives of developing DBS testing was that it could potentially be implemented for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.  In addition, this translates to a cheaper and convenient way of carrying out blood testing among athletes. This is a form of bio sampling where blood samples are blotted and dried on filter paper. The dried samples can easily be shipped to an analytical laboratory and analyzed using various methods such as mass spectrometry. With the arrival of new or modified substances or ‘designer drugs’ being misused by athletes, anti-doping bodies across the globe are continually pursuing new detection tactics to counter these emerging threats. Consequently, ABP provides a corresponding and more refined approach to customary analytical testing with a view to methodically gather evidence of possible doping in sport.   The author is a former head of Corporate Communications at Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak)

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