US doctors' visit renews calls for more sports specialists in Kenya

Dr Kiran Mullur from Wake Forest University school of medicine examines basketball player Sheila Cherotich in Elodret. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

A visit by a team of medics from America to Iten and Eldoret, the country's hotbed of athletics for one week of free medical services has renewed debate on the need for more sports doctors in Kenya.

A number of Kenyan sportsmen and women have suffered career-threatening injuries during and out of competition, which has worsened due to poor medical care.

Former World Half Marathon record holders Geoffrey Kamworor and Kibiwott Kandie as well as former World Under-20 3,000m champion Celliphine Chespol are among Kenyan top stars who have missed on carrying the country's flag in global contests because of injuries.

During the visits to training bases in Iten and Eldoret, the team under the auspices of Running the Race, an organization of physicians that has been offering medical services to athletes for the last five years called for the training of more doctors in sports medicine.

The team of six doctors, drawn from the University of Georgia and Wake Forest University, have been in the country since Saturday, and have been treating athletes since Monday.

Apart from treating injuries among athletes and basketballers, the team led by Wake Forest University's Dr Laura Lintner trained coaches at St Patrick's High School Iten on first aid and identification of injuries that appear minor, but later degenerate to full-scale damages if not treated early.

"Many athletes are out of the season because of injuries. It is expensive to treat injuries since many young basketballers have no medical insurance. Coaches occasionally help to pay hospital bills, but at times they have no money," Michael Dena, a Shoot 4 Life basketball player said during a session in Eldoret.

Yesterday, the team of doctors examined and offered physiotherapy to athletes at the Kamariny Stadium, which is still under construction, and was opened for training last week.

Kenyan coordinators of the Running the Race's free medical services program said the country lacked sports physios, and athletes have been depending on massage therapists.

The team's lead doctor Tracy Ray from the University of Georgia said there was a need for more sports doctors in Kenya, especially in training bases where the country's athletics top guns were training.

Dr Ray said the team of physicians were treating injuries purely through physiotherapy, and discouraging the use of medicines, which would put athletes at risk of taking drugs containing banned substances.

"Our emphasis has been in Iten with the track and road runners and also taking care of athletes in schools, and offering sports medicine and care to other sports such as basketball and soccer among others, in Eldoret," Dr Ray told Standard Sport.

He continued: "We are also looking to train Kenyans to offer the same level of care when we are not here. Together with our physios, we have visited training camps run by coaches. We would like to bring some Kenyan physios and physicians to the US to learn sports medicine and come back to provide professional sports medicine and care."

Dr Ray said physical injuries among Kenyan and US athletes were the same, but there was a departure between the two countries on the mode of training. In Kenya, he said, athletes were being handled by coaches, while their counterparts in the US are shaped by trainers who have training in sports medicine care.

Eldoret-based basketball coach Moses Muge said many sportsmen and women were battling injuries but lacked professional care, which is said was expensive and mostly available in private health facilities.

Muge said Kenyan coaches were ill-equipped to tackle injuries picked during training and competitions.

"From the medical services, we are learning that it is possible to treat some through physical exercises instead of medicines which can expose young players and athletes to doping," he said.

Dr Kipchumba Byron, a sports expert who is in charge of the team's operations said the doctors created awareness and provided diagnosis and prescription of exercises targeted at treating injuries.

"We are encouraging coaches to see a possibility that when you are having a good program, exercising is critical. It is not just about how many kilometers you are running in a day and what time you are clocking, but what you do with the athlete's body to prevent injuries," Dr Kipchumba said.

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