A Scottish charity donations are helping to tackle one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world by encouraging men in Malawi to step up as partners and fathers.

The initiative in Malawi is encouraging mothers-to-be to seek medical support and men to give vital help to their partners by assisting with domestic tasks and child care, or being on the alert for health problems during pregnancy.

It has enlisted influential men in the country - such as traditional chiefs - to bring together husbands and fathers to talk about maternal health issues and to challenge a culture where raising children is usually viewed as "women's work".

Over the past three years the 'Men as Partners' project in the Karonga district, funded by Christian Aid donations from Scotland has reached more than 25,000 men.

Pansi Katenga, Malawi country manager for Christian Aid, said traditionally women would talk to other females about sexual issues.

But she said: "It became very important to involve men from various angles - including the issue of HIV.

"Malawi health policy requires that women are tested for HIV/Aids on their first antenatal visit - so women would know their HIV status, but men would not.

"It became important to ask how do men also get tested and get medication if necessary at the same time as their wife?

"The other issue is that we work in communities to tell women the importance of delivering at a clinic so they can get access to medical help.

"At home it is important the husband realises the importance of their wife going to the clinic, as they will have to take on looking after other children and other domestic work."

She added: "We realised while we exclude men, we are not going to be able to achieve the goals around improving maternal health and had to ask how do we go beyond the culture of leaving men out?"

Jen Clark, from Christian Aid in Glasgow, recently travelled to Malawi to find out about the project. One of the women she met, Mumderanji Msiska, a young mother-of-three from Hara village, said: "With my first baby, my husband was not there. He left me alone. When I went to give birth, he escorted me and went home.

"But in my second pregnancy, it was better. Because of the project he knew what was involved. He has been there for me all the way, and present at the delivery. It was better when he was there, and easier for me."

Her husband, Austine, 30, said: "I used to think this was a woman's issue considering men do not give birth, but now I have learned that as a dad I should be taking part in everything my wife undergoes."

Clark said: "It was incredible to see men sit down and talk about family planning and childbirth. They have learned how to be more involved, and are passionate about helping other dads understand better too.

"One woman told me that she had high blood pressure towards the end of her pregnancy and her husband decided it would be better for her to rest while he took on the day to day running of the household. This is not the kind of thing many women in Malawi are accustomed to."

While progress has been made in reducing child deaths in Malawi in recent years, maternal mortality rates are still high at 675 per 100,000 live births. Around one in every ten adults in Malawi lives with HIV.