HealthPartners has landed a five-year, $3.4 million federal grant to expand a health insurance network in the East African country of Uganda.

The Bloomington-based health care and insurance nonprofit said it will use the money from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve maternal and newborn care and to prevent and treat diseases commonly found in rural areas, including malaria.

HealthPartners has been working in Uganda since 1997, when Land O'Lakes asked the company to set up a community-owned health plan for dairy farmers that Land O'Lakes had been working with for a number of years.

The idea was to create a plan similar to U.S.-based models, which would spread costs for care among larger groups of patients and keep medical costs down by emphasizing preventive care.

The program, known as the Uganda Health Cooperative, expanded in 2000 to include other groups across the country, including coffee and tea cooperatives, according to a report from the USAID.

More than 6,000 people from 29 business groups are part of the insurance network.

HealthPartners will use the latest grant to set up two new cooperative health networks that will initially focus on the southeastern districts of Uganda, said spokeswoman Annelise Searle. The company believes the networks eventually will provide prepaid health care coverage to 85,000 Ugandans.

JACKIE CROSBY