We present the theory of “Markov decision processes (MDP) with rare state observation” and apply it to optimal treatment scheduling and diagnostic testing to mitigate HIV-1 drug resistance development in resource-poor countries. The developed theory assumes that the state of the process is hidden and can only be determined by making an examination. Each examination produces costs which enter into the considered cost functional so that the resulting optimization problem includes finding optimal examination times. This is a realistic ansatz: In many real world applications, like HIV-1 treatment scheduling, the information about the disease evolution involves substantial costs, such that examination and control are intimately connected. However, a perfect compliance with the optimal strategy can rarely be achieved. This may be particularly true for HIV-1 resistance testing in resource-constrained countries. In the present work, we therefore analyze the sensitivity of the costs with respect to deviations from the optimal examination times both analytically and for the considered application. We
discover continuity in the cost-functional with respect to the examination times. For the HIV-application, moreover, sensitivity towards small deviations from the optimal examination rule depends on the disease state. Furthermore, we compare the optimal rare-control strategy to (i) constant control strategies (one action for the remaining time) and to (ii) the permanent control of the original, fully observed MDP. This comparison is
done in terms of expected costs and in terms of life-prolongation. The proposed rare-control strategy offers a clear benefit over a constant control, stressing the usefulness of medical testing and informed decision making. This indicates that lower-priced medical tests could improve HIV treatment in resource-constrained settings and warrants further investigation.