Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates meets with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul
Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates shakes hands with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol during their meeting at the Presidential office in Seoul, South Korea, August 16, 2022. Yonhap via REUTERS

Microsoft Corp co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates called on Tuesday for South Korea to play a bigger role in global health and to increase aid, working with his foundation to strengthen the fight against diseases.

"This is a crisis moment for global health. This is also a fantastic time for our foundation to strengthen partnership with Korea, providing great ideas for new tools and more resources to help those in need," Gates said in a speech at the National Assembly.

Gates arrived in South Korea late on Monday to sign an agreement with the government and outline their work on global health security, improvements to health equality and the fight against infectious diseases.

"Korea is poised to be a leader in this work," Gates said, citing its support of multilateral global health initiatives such as a $200 million pledge to vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX.

Gates also highlighted the country's vaccine manufacturing, diagnostic manufacturing, R&D capabilities and diagnostic capabilities as strengths.

Ahead of the speech, he met with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo and other lawmakers, where they primarily discussed how to expand health cooperation and details on what he sees as a bigger role for South Korea.

During the talks, Gates called for increasing funding for groups that help improve health conditions in poor countries and prevent pandemics, and asked if South Korea would be able to scale up its international aid to 1.3% of GDP.

South Korean lawmakers said there was consensus for increasing aid and promised to "play a leading role in responding to global pandemics by expanding its participation in CEPI funds starting next year." The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is a foundation that works with public, private, philanthropic and civil society organisations to develop vaccines against future epidemics.

Gates is also scheduled to meet with President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday.