New research in Africa shows a seasonal change in the risk of death for pregnant women, and suggests malaria may be behind it. Study author Samuel Anya at the University of the Gambia looked at deaths among pregnant women from anemia, one of the main effects of malaria.

He found they increased sharply during the rainy season, when malaria transmission is highest.

"Anemia as a cause of death was eight times more likely during the malaria season compared to the non-malaria season. For the other causes of death like bleeding, infections, and other things there wasn't any significant change between the two seasons," he says.

Although the study provides only indirect evidence that malaria is the culprit, Dr. Anya hopes to stimulate more research into the subject to prove a more direct link. The study also found that anemia deaths have risen four-fold since 1992.

According to Dr. Anya, programs aimed at reducing maternal death give too little weight to malaria as a factor. He says more attention to its potential impact would save lives. His study appears in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.