South Korea - Global health R&D

This section focuses on donor countries’ support to global health research and development (R&D) that addresses the global health challenges disproportionately affecting the world’s most disadvantaged people. Following the methodological approach used by Policy Cures Research (read G-Finder’s scope document), it focuses on donor funding and policy in three main areas: 1) emerging infectious diseases (EIDs); 2) poverty-related and neglected diseases (PRNDs); and 3) sexual and reproductive health (SRH). As part of the EID R&D funding, this section also takes a closer look at donor contributions for COVID-19 R&D within the framework of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). This section excludes domestic funding for health R&D that does not benefit low- and middle-income countries. Not all funding mentioned qualifies as ODA.)

Global health R&D is not a strategic priority within South Korea’s development policy 

According to data from the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research, South Korea contributed US$6 million in total to R&D EIDS, PRNDs, and SRH in 2019, making it the 15th-largest public donor to R&D for these areas. The vast majority (85% or US$5 million) of this funding was spent on R&D for PRNDs only. 9% (US$500 thousand) was spent on R&D for SRH and 6% (US$400 thousand) on EIDs. The remainder was spent on R&D initiatives targeting more than one disease area.

The government tends to use non-official development assistance resources to invest in R&D by domestic companies: For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, the government has invested mostly domestically in COVID-19-related R&D but has committed to sharing the results globally.

South Korea contributes to Unitaid, a global health research and development initiative focused on tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and hepatitis C. It has pledged US$5 million a year to Unitaid for the period 2019 to 2021, which represents a 25% increase in annual contributions compared to its 2013 to 2018 contributions. South Korea helped to establish a ‘Research Investment for Global Health Technology’ Fund, known as the RIGHT Fund which aims to leverage South Korea’s global health R&D expertise and its ODA to develop technologies to address health needs in low- and middle-income countries. The government has committed to providing KRW25 billion (US$21 million) in total between 2018 and 2022.


South Korea spent US$400 thousand on R&D for EIDs in 2019

In 2019, South Korea spent US$400 thousand on R&D for EIDs. This makes South Korea the 16th-largest donor to R&D for EIDs in 2019.

South Korea’s funding for EIDs decreased by 68% in 2019 compared to 2018 (US$1 million). It is worth noting that it is common to see spikes and dips in EID funding as donors respond to outbreaks, and do not necessarily indicate a significant re/de-prioritization of the sector; however, consistent funding for EID R&D (for example, funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; CEPI) is essential to ensuring preparedness in advance of EID outbreaks and ensuring a rapid response — in terms of both research and containment — to emerging disease threats. South Korea made its first annual commitment of US$3 million from 2020 to 2022 to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Most of South Korea’s EID R&D funding in 2019 went to coronaviral diseases (including MERS, SARS, COVID-19; 57% of EID funding). South Korea’s funding for EID R&D is surprisingly low given that global health is a strategic focus of the country’s development efforts.

South Korea has increased R&D funding to EID through its international COVID-19 response, committing US$200 million during the G7 Summit in 2021 

South Korea committed an equivalent of US$200 million to the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for 2021 and 2022 during the G7 Summit in June of 2021. In 2020, South Korea announced funding commitments of US$183 million for the development of treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, according to Policy Cures Research’s COVID-19 R&D tracker. South Korea has joined the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) as a Facilitation Council member and is one of eight countries — with the US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and Mexico — in the 'market leader group'. The Facilitation Council provides strategic advice and guidance to ACT-A.  ACT-A is a framework for collaboration through which donor countries have committed funds toward R&D for COVID-19; however not all ACT-A funding is for R&D, since it also has a strong health system strengthening and vaccine distribution components. (For additional information on the broader ACT-A global health response to COVID-19, see Sector: ‘Global Health’.)

South Korea’s funding for PRNDs fluctuated significantly since 2007

In 2019, South Korea invested US$5 million in R&D for PRNDs, making it the 14th-largest public supporter of PRND R&D in 2019. Between 2007 and 2019, funding levels fluctuated from their lowest point of US$111 thousand in 2012 to their peak of US$5 million in 2019. 81% of South Korea’s funding for PRNDs in 2019 took the form of Core funding for the Research Investment for Global Health Technology Fund (RIGHT Fund). The rest of spending on R&D for PRNDs was directed toward tuberculosis (9% of PRND funding in 2019), malaria (5%), kinetoplastid diseases (5%), and tuberculosis (9%).

South Korea’s funding for SRH R&D is very low

In 2019, South Korea spent just over US$500 thousand on R&D for SRH. This makes South Korea the 9th-largest donor to this sector in 2019. 2019 was the first year in which funding for SRH was reported, according to the G-FINDER survey conducted by Policy Cures Research. South Korea made disbursements of US$300 thousand or 50% of funding for SRHs for R&D for diagnostics of Human papillomavirus (HPV) and HPV-related cervical cancer, and diagnostics of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), respectively.

South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention leads on ODA-related global health R&D

South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) takes the leading role in disease control in South Korea. Within the CDC, the Risk Assessment and International Cooperation Division under the Emergency Operations Bureau manages operations in partner countries.