The staff with the snake has long been a symbol of medicine and the medical profession. It originates from the story of Asclepius, who was revered by the ancient Greeks as a god of healing and whose cult involved the use of snakes. Asclepius, incidentally, was so successful at saving lives that, the legend goes, Hades the god of the underworld complained about him to the supreme god Zeus who, fearing that the healer might make humans immortal, killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt.
The WHO logo consists of the WHO emblem and the words “World Health Organization” or “WHO”.
Protection of the WHO logo and emblem
The use of the WHO logo is restricted to institutions that have an official collaborating status with WHO and only in conjunction with the work that they are undertaking for WHO. In addition to being an identifier of the Organization, the WHO emblem or logo implies endorsement by WHO of the material it is used in conjunction with.
The use of the WHO emblem and logo is governed by a resolution of the First World Health Assembly (resolution WHA1.133), which states that "appropriate measures should be taken to prevent the use, without authorization by the Director-General, and in particular for commercial purposes by means of trade-marks or commercial labels, of the emblem, the official seal and the name of the World Health Organization, and of abbreviations of that name through the use of its initial letters". WHO’s rules accepted by its 194 Member States do not allow the Organization’s name, emblem or logo to be used to promote specific companies, products or ideologies.
In most Member States of WHO, legislation has subsequently been introduced to protect the emblem, logo and name of the Organization. The WHO emblem, logo, name and abbreviation are also protected from being registered as trademarks under Article 6 of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.
WHO's emblem is part of the Organization’s intellectual property and its use implies endorsement by WHO, it may only be used with express written permission.
The WHO emblem should not be used in association with advertising or promotional literature for products or services, with the names of proprietary products, or with the logos of commercial entities.
The WHO emblem or logo may only be used on publications (print, electronic or web) with express permission, and only if WHO has been involved in preparing the text (or the work on which it is based), and only so long as the text is consistent with WHO's policies and priorities.
The WHO name, emblem and flag can be used by institutions that have been designated as WHO collaborating centres, subject to certain conditions, and only in conjunction with the work that they are undertaking for WHO.
For further information, see WHO Collaborating Centres.
The use of the WHO emblem as an illustration (for instance, in a magazine article about the Organization) is not permitted, because it may be interpreted it as indicating endorsement. Journalists and other writers are encouraged to use other illustrations (such as photographs or the WHO flag, building or WHO staff in action) that draw attention to WHO's work. Similarly, the use of the WHO emblem on non-WHO websites is normally not allowed, since its use could be misconstrued as WHO endorsement of the non-WHO site.
For further information, see the Mediacentre.
In addition to the logo which represents WHO as an organization, some WHO programmes, partnerships and collaborative projects have their own logos which they use to identify their activities. The use of these logos is limited to the programme, partnership or project concerned. In many cases, these programmes, partnerships and projects involve collaboration between WHO and other bodies. Use of a WHO programme, partnership and collaborative project logo does not indicate approval or endorsement by WHO.
WHO may develop logos and other promotional materials designed for use to increase public awareness of health issues. Further information on the use of WHO health campaign logos is available here.