South Korea was the 11th-largest OECD DAC donor to global health in 2021 in absolute terms and fifth-largest relative to its ODA/GNI ratio.
South Korea spent 22% of its ODA on global health in 2021, down from 28% in 2020, according to the OECD DAC. The slight decrease in health funding is largely due to massive health spending related to the prioritization of COVID-19 response in 2020. Funding levels remain elevated compared to pre-COVID-19 spending.
95% of South Korean global health funding was channeled via bilateral contributions in 2021, including earmarked funding through multilaterals, which accounted for 22% of global health ODA. South Korea’s bilateral funding, including earmarked funding through multilaterals, remained stable between 2020 and 2021. However, the relative percentages of each share changed, with bilateral funding decreasing from 83% in 2020 to 73% in 2021, and earmarked funding through multilaterals jumping from 11% to 22% of global health ODA. This trend points to South Korea’s prioritization of bilateral ODA, while indicating the country’s recent openness and increased interest in multilateralism.
Multilateral funding accounted for 5% of total ODA to health in 2021. This figure is well below the DAC average of 30%. South Korea prioritizes loan assistance to partner countries due to its own experience as an ODA recipient.
South Korea also joined the ACT-A as a Facilitation Council member, providing strategic advice and guidance to ACT-A, and is one of eight countries—with the US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and Mexico—in the Market Leader Group.
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reshaped the South Korean global health funding landscape and South Korea’s broader endeavor to increase its influence as a ‘middle-power.’ South Korea was invited to the G7 summit as a guest nation in June 2021, where it pledged funding for the COVAX AMC.
President Yoon Suk-yeol signaled that he would strengthen the response system to infectious diseases with the aim of making South Korea a vaccine powerhouse. He has made the commitment to establish a global vaccine hub and expand health R&D in bio-digital and advanced medical care.
South Korea was designated as a WHO Global Biomanufacturing Training Hub, with the aim of strengthening partnerships to support the global COVID-19 response. South Korea committed to providing 3.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as a total of US$200 million in support through COVAX to the AU. This partnership in vaccine development and bioindustry workforce training will boost development cooperation between South Korea and Africa.
Global health is a priority issue in the Mid-term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025) and has grown in importance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. South Korea adopted the following multipronged approach until 2022:
- Increasing ODA to health by 11% from KRW425 billion, or US$329 million, in 2022 to KRW473.3 billion, or US$366 million, in 2023;
- Strengthening support for the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines;
- Developing the health and medical systems of partner countries;
- Building the infectious disease response capacity in partner countries by providing training and establishing healthcare facilities;
- Enhancing South Korea’s contributions by leveraging the solidarity groups for global health security that it leads in the UN, WHO, and UNESCO as well as building partnerships with CSOs, private sector, research institutions, and philanthropic organizations; and
- Expanding the linkages between its foreign policies, such as the New Northern Policy and New Southern Policy, and its policies on development cooperation.
According to the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan, South Korea will further strengthen ‘strategic partnerships’ for health with the Global Fund, Unitaid, Gavi, and CEPI, with a commitment of KRW23.3 billion, or US$18 million, for global health organizations such as these in 2023. South Korea joined the board of the Global Fund in 2018 and is the Global Fund’s third-largest supplier of diagnostic tests and the sixth-largest supplier of essential health products.
|Global health R&D is also important to addressing many of the global health challenges that disproportionately affect the world’s most disadvantaged people. For more information on how donor countries are supporting global health R&D across three main areas — 1) EIDs; 2) PRNDs; and 3) SRH — read the excellent G-Finder reports and explore the interactive data portal created by Policy Cures Research. Not all funding mentioned in these analyses qualifies as ODA.
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Maura Kitchens West
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