SA is a hub for research and development as well as clinical research focused on infectious diseases, a report released on Monday entitled "How the Brics are reshaping global health and development" says.
This was due to SA's well-established clinical infrastructure, high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and TB, and local expertise, the Global Health Strategies initiatives (GHSi) report released in New Delhi added.
It also noted that SA, the newest member of the Brazil, Russia, India, China (Brics) economic grouping, had an economy significantly smaller than any of its Brics counterparts.
However, SA had the largest economy in Africa and was the only African member of the G20.
"It is the gateway to Africa's commodity markets and home to a rapidly expanding middle class, and its vibrant civil society is seen as a model for the rest of the continent," the report said.
"However, its international efforts are nascent and nowhere near the scale of the other BRICS."
The report noted that SA was wrestling with growing income inequality and major social challenges, including the world's largest burden of HIV/Aids.
"Taken as a whole, SA's history and regional influence give the country a unique political and moral authority among developing countries - but it is currently prioritising domestic affairs."
The country's significant domestic challenges and on-going battle against HIV/Aids and TB have limited the scope and influence of its global health assistance programme. Despite rapid economic growth and a policy of universal access to HIV/Aids treatment, the South African health system faces significant funding gaps and only 56% of those in need receive adequate access to ARVs.
The government has understandably chosen to prioritise domestic health over support for health in other countries.
That said, SA's response to HIV/Aids and TB have had broad influence on global health, particularly in terms of clinical research, advocacy and policy.
"Since it is on the front lines of efforts to combat these epidemics, SA has also become a proving ground for innovative tools and programmes and produced a cadre of dedicated researchers and policymakers whose efforts impact global approaches to treatment and prevention," the report noted.
"While a significant amount of R&D and programming conducted in SA is funded or led by international institutions, domestic scientists, innovators and volunteers are major contributors to these efforts.
"With all this in mind, SA's greatest contribution to global health innovation may be its ability to serve as a prominent model for other developing countries."
The report said that SA received far more health assistance than it contributed, including more of the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) funding than any country in the world.
However, SA allocated limited resources to health assistance through multilateral agencies, bilateral channels and other south-south partnerships.
"From 2003 to 2007, the Mbeki administration gave US$10 million to the Global Fund and in 2006 it pledged US$20 million over 20 years to the Gavi [Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation] Alliance.
"The current government continues to collaborate on health-related initiatives through Ibsa [India-Brazil-SA], including a partnership with India on vaccine research in the areas of HIV/Aids, TB and malaria."
The report added that SA's bilateral health assistance tended to be distributed in the form of grants or technical support, but it made up just a small part of the broader South African development programme.
"In 2010, for example, SA provided technical support to aid malaria control efforts in the SADC region.
"As in its broader foreign assistance programme, health-specific disbursements occur across several government agencies and comprehensive data on expenditures is largely unavailable."
However, as SA's health situation improves - and dependence on foreign assistance declines - many expect the country to seek out more opportunities to expand health assistance efforts across the region.
"For the time being, these programmes are expected to remain limited," the report said.