South Korea increasingly focuses on global health and has significantly increased funding to this sector
Global health has become a priority issue since its inclusion in South Korea’s Strategic Plan for International Development Cooperation, released in 2015. Although South Korea’s new government has abolished the previous government’s flagship development initiatives, including those focused on global health, funding to these issues is expected to remain; investments in health are expected to continue to increase.
The ‘Better Life for Girls’ was one of the previous government’s flagship initiatives and was aimed at assisting 15 priority countries in developing projects that promote girls’ education and health. The US$200 million previously committed will be used for maternal and child health programs. The ‘Science, Technology and Innovation for Better Life’ (US$200 million) initiative was intended to support projects which build scientific capacity, conduct research and development (R&D), and encourage entrepreneurship, including initiatives related to health. South Korea also introduced the ‘Safe Life for All’ initiative, which committed US$100 million towards combating infectious diseases. This initiative came out of the 2015 Global Health Security Agenda High Level Meeting, which was hosted by South Korea. It is expected that most of the funding that was committed to this initiative will be allocated to other government programs with a similar health focus. In South Korea’s 2018 International Development Cooperation Action Plan, health is one of five top priorities, with a focus on improving the environment for health and medicines by building capacities of hospitals and medical care.
South Korea channels most of its health ODA bilaterally (84% in 2015). Bilateral investments increased by 22% from US$169 million in 2015 to US$206 million in 2016.
Bilateral funding is largely channeled through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the public Korea Foundation for International Healthcare (KOFIH). KOICA’s mid-term health strategy for 2016 to 2020 highlights the importance of health as a human right and essential factor for socioeconomic development. According to the strategy, South Korea’s goal is to contribute to the achievement of universal health objectives by improving access to quality health and medical services and care for all. The three strategic priorities to achieve this are a) enhancing water/sanitation and access to comprehensive nutrition services, b) ensuring access to health services for reproductive, maternal, child, and adolescents’ health (RMNCAH), including vaccination and immunization, and c) preventing diseases and ensuring treatment, including infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and non-communicable diseases.
South Korea channeled around 16%, or US$33 million, of its health ODA multilaterally in 2015 (the latest year for which multilateral data is available), far below the OECD DAC average (55%). Assessed contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank accounted for 64% of this amount. The remaining 36% went to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi; 12%), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund; 12%), regional development banks (8%), and UN organizations (4%).
At the Global Fund’s September 2016 Replenishment Conference, South Korea committed US$12 million for its 2017 to 2019 funding period. South Korea previously pledged and disbursed US$8 million to Gavi in 2016 and 2017. A US$4 million disbursement is also budgeted for 2018 (with contributions for 2019 and 2020 still unclear). South Korea also contributes to UNITAID, a global health research and development initiative focused on tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and hepatitis C, contributing US$23 million from 2013 to 2017, (US$4 million in the 2018 budget). The 2018 budget further includes a US$2 million disbursement to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Funding for the Global Fund, UNITAID, and the GPEI is raised through an air-ticket solidarity levy, which is pooled in the ‘Global Disease Eradication Fund’.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Development Cooperation Bureau leads on the development of the global-health strategy
South Korea’s global health policy is largely determined by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Within MOFA, the Development Policy Division is in charge of developing global-health policies. The Multilateral Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance Division manages relations with multilateral health initiatives such as the Global Fund and Gavi.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) and the Korea Foundation for International Healthcare (KOFIH) are also engaged in improving global health. Their global health programs include medical and health-care assistance programs, including the provision of medical devices, equipment, and disaster relief.