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“We just feel rejected”. Kenya’s Wambui fears testosterone rules will end career

The IAAF has maintained that the rules are necessary for fair competition.

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"We just feel rejected". Kenya's Wambui fears testosterone rules will end career
Kenya's Margaret Nyairera Wambui. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP)

Kenya’s Olympic 800 metres bronze medallist Margaret Nyairera Wambui can feel her career slipping away from her, with no idea when, or if, she will be able to compete internationally again.

The 24-year-old is one of several star female athletes affected by an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruling this month that requires women with high levels of testosterone to take medication to suppress it.

Seated at a dirt-track stadium at the foot of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi where she trains, Wambui has just returned from a disappointing sixth-place finish in the 800m at the Doha Diamond League.

She was meant to leave for the IAAF World Challenge athletics meeting in Nanjing next week, but now her future is one big question mark.

“I am very disappointed, I don’t even feel like going on with the training because you don’t know what you are training for,” she told AFP.

The new IAAF rules took effect on May 8 after South Africa’s two-time Olympic 800m champion, Caster Semenya lost a legal challenge against them.

For about a decade, Semenya has been the symbol of a furious debate worldwide about questions of gender, women with elevated testosterone, and physical advantage.

However, other athletes such as Wambui, who finished third behind Semenya in the 800m at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the silver medallist from Burundi, Francine Niyonsaba, are also affected.

Physical advantage debate –

The IAAF has maintained that the rules are necessary for fair competition, arguing that athletes with high levels of testosterone benefit from increased bone and muscle strength similar to men who have gone through puberty.

However, critics highlight that the very nature of elite athletic success is down to one physical advantage or another, such as swimmers with disproportionately big hands or feet, or basketball players who are taller than the average person.

“Why, when you have a high level of testosterone in men, you are likely to perform well and we celebrate that? But when it comes to women, we have to tell them to lower it and we draw them out of competition. Why?”

She further asked;

“Why don’t we take maybe men with low testosterone and categorise them as women?” -Wambui.

The new rule applies to distances from 400m to a mile, and includes the heptathlon, which concludes with an 800m race.

Wambui said simply switching to another distance like 5,000m was not possible, with different skills and training needed that would take years to reach elite level.

“I am not going to take medication because I am not sick and…those are chemicals you are putting in your body, you don’t know how it will affect you later,” she said.

She said that maybe the idea of having different categories of runners -comparing it to boxing, where heavyweights don’t fight flyweights -might be “a good idea to make it fair.”

We are just natural –

Wambui grew up in Kenya’s central highlands in the town of Nyeri, and began running in primary school. She was thrust into the spotlight when she won a gold medal at the 2014 IAAF world junior championships and has since established herself as one of the world’s top two-lap runners.

Running is “something in me, in my blood, it is something I cannot do without. Now they are telling us we can’t compete, we just feel rejected. We are just natural, we did not dope.”

Wambui, who is tall and muscular, with braided hair and a shy smile, said she had never faced questions about her gender or appearance until the IAAF began cracking down on women with elevated testosterone. 

She said she had been forced to undergo blood tests for doping, but did not know when she had been specifically tested for testosterone levels.

“I am worried now about my career,” she said, adding that the ruling had also heaped pressure on her family, for whom she is the only breadwinner.

When she is not training, she is a police officer, and works for Kenya’s prison service. 

Last week, Athletics Kenya dropped 100m and 200m champion Maximilla Imali and 400m runner Evangeline Makena from the team for the IAAF World Relays event in Japan over their high levels of testosterone.

South Africa plans to appeal the latest IAAF ruling.

The IAAF argues its ruling is aimed at creating a “level playing field” and denies accusations it was targeted specifically at Semenya.

Wambui said that while Semenya had become a cause celebre in South Africa, fiercely defended by politicians and citizens, she herself had received no support from the Kenyan government.

Athletics Kenya official Barnabas Korir told AFP the body supports the IAAF ruling. 

“This has been a simmering issue especially with our very own athletes having complained about running with these women with excess testosterone,” he said.

“We have to be realistic that these athletes have had an advantage over the others.”

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Kenya becomes 3rd country to adopt world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S

Kenya, which joins Malawi and Ghana, earlier this year, commenced their own pilot vaccination programmes supported by the WHO

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Kenya becomes 3rd country to adopt world's first malaria vaccine, RTS,S

Kenya on Friday became the third country to start routinely innoculating infants against malaria, using the world’s first vaccine to combat a disease that kills 800 children globally every day.

The vaccine — RTS,S — targets the deadliest and most common form of malaria parasite in Africa, where children under five account for two-thirds of all global deaths from the mosquito-born illness.

Kenya, which is rolling-out RTS,S in the western county of Homa Bay, joins Malawi and Ghana, which, earlier this year, commenced their own pilot vaccination programmes supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“This is the most advanced malaria vaccine that we have today. It has been in the making for the last almost three decades,” Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO’s co-ordinator of immunisation and vaccine development programme, told reporters before the Kenyan launch, which will expand to other malaria-prone areas of the country.

“Children are the most vulnerable group to this severe disease that is malaria, so protecting children can make a big impact in preventing malaria.”

The vaccine will be added in these pilot areas to the other routine shots given to young children under national immunisation schedules.

RTS,S acts against ‘Plasmodium falciparum’, the deadliest form of malaria, and the most prevalent in Africa, where illness and death from the disease remains high despite some gains.

The shots, administered over four doses, have been shown in clinical trials to significantly reduce cases of malaria, and malaria-related complications, in young children.

The vaccine prevented about 4 in 10 cases of malaria and three in 10 cases of the most severe, life-threatening form of the disease, within the trial group, WHO says.

RTS,S will be considered for use more broadly as a tool to fight malaria, alongside other preventative measures such as long-lasting insecticidal nets.

The disease kills more than 400,000 people around the world every year. Of these about 290,000 were children under five. 

WHO says a child dies roughly every two minutes from malaria somewhere in the world. 

Most of these are in Africa, where more than 90 per cent of the world’s malaria cases — and fatalities — occur.

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Rwanda agrees to receive African migrants stranded in Libya

The first group “is principally made up of people originating from the Horn of Africa,” the AU and the UN said in a statement

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Rwanda agrees to receive African migrants stranded in Libya
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. (Photo by Cyril NDEGEYA / AFP)

Rwanda agreed Tuesday to take in hundreds and potentially thousands of African migrants stranded in Libya, a deal the African Union hopes to replicate with other member states.

“We will be receiving the initial number of 500 in a few weeks,” Hope Tumukunde Gasatura, Rwanda’s ambassador to the AU, told a news conference after signing a memorandum of understanding alongside representatives of the AU and the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

The first group “is principally made up of people originating from the Horn of Africa,” the AU and the UN said in a statement.

They will be housed in a transit centre in Rwanda before being resettled elsewhere unless they agree to return to their home countries.

In the chaos that followed the fall and killing of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a 2011 uprising, Libya became a key transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe.

The UN says some 42,000 migrants are currently in Libya.

“We have been desperately searching for solutions for those people,” said Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR’s representative to the AU at the news conference in Addis Ababa, the seat of the pan-African body.

The Rwandan government is prepared to take in as many as 30,000 Africans from Libya, though the plan is for the process to unfold in batches of 500 to prevent the country from becoming overwhelmed.

“Fewer countries around the world are more than prepared to admit refugees,” Chanda said.

Rwandan President, Paul Kagame first offered to take in Africans stuck in Libya back in November 2017, the same month a CNN report showed what appeared to be a slave market there.

The issue took on new urgency in July when more than 40 people were killed in an air strike on a migrant detention centre in the Libyan town of Tajoura.

The Rwandan government is prepared to take in as many as 30,000 Africans from Libya, though the plan is for the process to unfold in batches of 500 to prevent the country from becoming overwhelmed. 

Lessons from Niger –

The UN has been criticised for its handling of a transit mechanism for evacuees from Libya established in 2017 on the other side of the continent, in Niger.

The facilities there have struggled with overcrowding and the slow processing of asylum applications.

Rwandan and UN officials “have learned from the Niger experience and we have fine-tuned the procedure,” Chanda said.

“The process is going to be very lengthy,” he said, however.

Tumukunde Gasatura, the Rwandan ambassador, said refugees and asylum-seekers would be housed in facilities that have previously been used for Burundian refugees fleeing that country’s political crisis in 2015.

The AU hailed the deal with Rwanda as an example of African governments stepping up to solve the continent’s problems.

“It is a historical moment because Africans are extending their hands to other Africans,” said Amira Elfadil, the AU’s social affairs commissioner.

“We kept on talking about finding durable solutions. My belief is this is part of the durable solutions.”

Officials hope that other African countries will offer similar assistance, though Elfadil said so far none have been forthcoming.

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Pope Francis ends three-nation Africa tour in Mauritius

The Pope will celebrate mass at the Mary Queen of Peace Monument, the same hillside location where John Paul II celebrated in 1989

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Pope Francis ends three-nation Africa tour in Mauritius
Pope Francis waves as he arrives prior to leading a mass at the Monument of Mary Queen of Peace, Port Louis, Mauritius, on September 9, 2019. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Pope Francis arrived in Mauritius on Monday on the final stop of a three-nation Africa tour where he is expected to celebrate the diversity and tolerance of one of the continent’s richest, most stable nations.

Thousands of faithful gathered in the capital Port-Louis, some before dawn, waiting for the Argentine pontiff to address the Indian Ocean island, a melting pot of religions and ethnic groups.

The Pope will celebrate mass at the Mary Queen of Peace Monument, the same hillside location where John Paul II celebrated the eucharist during the last papal visit to Mauritius in 1989.

READ: Pope Francis begins Africa tour in Mozambique

“More than 3,500 of us came from Reunion” island — about 175 kilometres — from Mauritius, said Josette, who is among those awaiting the Pope.

Giant screens have been put up in Port Louis to allow devotees to watch the papal mass, and billboards adorned with Francis’ image have sprung up across the coastal city.

Pope Francis ends three-nation Africa tour in Mauritius
Pope Francis (R) arrives at the Port Louis airport, Mauritius, on September 9, 2019, on the final stop of an Africa tour. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“It is very important for us to meet the Pope. It is an occasion,” said Genevieve, 47, from Mauritius.

Mauritius comprises four volcanic islands and lies roughly 1,800 kilometres off the eastern coast of Africa.

The population of 1.3 million is predominantly Hindu but has sizeable Christian and Muslim minorities.

About 30 per cent of Mauritius is Christian, with most being Catholic.

The island nation was briefly colonised by the Dutch, French and the British and since independence in 1968, has developed from a poor, agriculture-based economy, to one of Africa’s wealthiest nations.

It is best known for its position as a global tax haven and idyllic tourist beach destination.

The Pope is on the last stop of his tour which has taken him to Mozambique and Madagascar.

Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth said the Pope would encounter a “true model of pluralism” during his visit.

READ: Pope Francis arrives Madagascar during three-nation tour

“Our cultural diversity has never prevented us from creating an environment conducive to dialogue, understanding and peace,” he said.

“It will not be a visit of Pope Francis to the Catholics but to the Mauritian people in all its religious diversity,” said Cardinal Maurice Piat, Bishop of Port Louis, ahead of the papal visit.

Francis’ visit coincides with the 155th anniversary of the death of Father Jacques Desire Laval, a French priest who died in Mauritius in 1864 and was beatified in 1979. 

Pope Francis ends three-nation Africa tour in Mauritius
Pope Francis (C) arrives prior to leading a mass at the Monument of Mary Queen of Peace, Port Louis, Mauritius, on September 9, 2019. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The Pope will visit the mausoleum of Laval, known as the “Apostle of Mauritius” for his missionary work.

Every year about 100,000 pilgrims visit the tomb of Laval, northeast of Port Louis, on the night of September 8-9, to commemorate his death.

This year, it was brought forward to September 7-8 to accommodate the Pope’s visit.

READ: Pope Francis to tour Madagascar in locally-made Karenjy popemobile

The pontiff will also visit the official residence of President Barlen Vyapoory, whose role is largely titular, and will also meet with Jugnauth. 

Mauritius has begun planting some 200,000 trees ahead of the Pope’s visit. It is expected Francis will be offering a blessing for the island’s natural environment.

According to the World Bank, one of the greatest challenges for the island is adapting to the effects of climate change — which has worsened tropical storms and floods affecting it.

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