Kenya to open its 1st WADA-approved drug-testing lab

MONACO -- Kenya has its first World Anti-Doping Agency-approved drug-testing laboratory.

The Athletics Integrity Unit, which handles doping cases in international track and field, says Monday that the lab in the capital Nairobi will be operational early next month.

It'll be able to perform blood analyses as well as other tests, desperately needed in a country under scrutiny for severe shortcomings in doping control.

Previously, blood samples taken from Kenya's world-beating distance runners had to be flown to South Africa or 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 as revealed by The Associated Press in 2016.

Blood doping is especially relevant to distance running, where Kenya has been a powerhouse for decades. The nation's reputation has been hit hard, though, by an upsurge in doping cases in recent years and an ineffective and sometimes corrupt anti-doping system.

The AIU said it collected more than 3,500 blood samples to test for doping in 2017. It expects the lab in Nairobi to handle between 800 and 1,000 samples a year from the East African region, including from Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Eritrea.

The Nairobi lab belongs to the Lancet healthcare group and has been fitted to handle anti-doping tests. The project took nine months and was paid for by the AIU with help from track and field's governing body, the IAAF.

It's not a fully accredited WADA lab, but the world anti-doping organization allows an approved facility to handle some tests for cost and geographic reasons as long as it meets criteria.